President Donald Trump has returned to the campaign trail less than two weeks after testing positive for coronavirus.
He told thousands of supporters, many not wearing masks, that he could give them “a big fat kiss”, at a rally in the battleground state of Florida.
His rival, Joe Biden, speaking in Ohio, accused the president of “reckless behaviour” since his diagnosis.
The two presidential candidates are scrambling to secure votes with three weeks until the 3 November election.
Opinion polls suggests Mr Biden has a 10-point lead over Mr Trump nationally. However his lead in some key states is narrower – as is the case in Florida, where the Democrat is 3.7 points ahead, according to an average of polls collated by Real Clear Politics.
Battlegrounds like Florida and Ohio are crucial for gathering the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House, which is not determined by a simple popular ballot count.
Mr Trump tested positive for Covid-19 some 11 days ago, and was admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center a day later.
But on Sunday his personal doctor said he was no longer a Covid transmission risk to others and disclosed on Monday that his most recent tests were negative over consecutive days, although he did not give the dates.
Trump faithful come out to see their man
The usual chants of “Four more years!” were heard as hundreds queued to enter the open air space where the president made his appearance.
People have been getting their temperature checked and were offered face masks. Those who covered up didn’t think it was too soon for the president to be out and about. They said they admired him for it. One man here told me he was originally from New York and had made Florida his home – just like “his hero” Donald Trump.
The Trump campaign team is throwing everything at Florida – a loss here makes his return to the White House near impossible.
Over the weekend, his eldest son Donald Trump Jr concluded his Florida bus tour, “Fighters Against Socialism” – a pitch primarily aimed at Hispanic voters.
Vice-President Mike Pence recently visited “The Villages” a famous retirement home to turn out the elderly vote.
But though the president and some of his supporters here seem relaxed about coronavirus, it has hit Florida hard, with more than 15,000 deaths. Joe Biden arrives here on Tuesday. His team are focusing on the administration’s handling of the pandemic and plan to carry out a quieter but vigorous campaign in key suburban areas which they hope will help flip the state blue.
In his first stump appearance following his Covid-19 diagnosis and recovery, a re-invigorated Mr Trump returned to his campaign’s familiar themes and lines of attack against Mr Biden.
He touted stock market growth, the establishment of the US Space Force and his successful confirmation of two conservative Supreme Court justices to the bench – with a third nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, before the Senate this week – as major achievements.
Before a crowd of several thousand he denounced plans to prolong shutdowns supported by Democrats and sought to question Mr Biden’s mental acuity.
Referring to his own recovery from Covid-19, he said at one point: “They say I’m immune – I feel so powerful. I’ll walk in there and kiss everyone. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women, I’ll give you a big, fat kiss.”
Though reinfections of the virus remain rare scientists are still questioning how much immunity can be built up to the virus.
Why is Florida so important?
It was no surprise that Florida – known as the Sunshine State – is the place where Mr Trump made his big rally return.
He wants and needs to win Florida, a state he narrowly carried in 2016. It is also his adopted home. A lifelong New Yorker, he made himself a Florida resident last year in September.
Close races in crucial states mean he may yet win re-election by capturing key electoral college-rich territories.
Florida is among the six states with the largest number of electoral college votes – 29 of the total of 538 up for grabs.
Mr Trump is stopping in a further three battleground states this week – Pennsylvania (with 20 electoral college votes), Iowa (6) and North Carolina (15).
The president’s rally in Florida showed little sign that Mr Trump had been chastened by his illness, and events later in the week are unlikely to exhibit changes in his approach to coronavirus precautions.
Critics have disparaged him for not encouraging people to wear protective masks or abide by social distancing guidelines.
What about Joe Biden?
Mr Biden, who made two appearances in the key state of Ohio on Monday, attacked the president’s campaigning approach, saying that he “comes to Sanford bringing nothing but reckless behaviour, divisive rhetoric and fear mongering”.
The 77-year-old has taken a more cautious approach to campaigning, with his team announcing on Monday that he had tested negative for the virus again.
The Democrat is due to appear in Florida on Tuesday.
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