President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden are set to chase votes in Florida, a state all but essential to the Republican's pathway to another term in office.
Trump and Biden will appear in Tampa hours apart on Thursday, in an area known for its rapid residential growth, sprawling suburbs and status as an ever-changing, hard-fought battleground during presidential elections.
Without Florida’s 29 electoral votes, Trump’s route to victory is exceptionally difficult.
Wednesday saw the two bitter rivals clash over the coronavirus. Joe Biden vowed not to campaign in the election homestretch "on the false promises of being able to end this pandemic by flipping a switch."
He called Trump's handling of the coronavirus an "insult" to its victims, especially as cases spike dramatically around the country. The administration had "given up" fighting COVID-19, he claimed.
"Even if I win, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic," Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. "I do promise this: We will start on day one doing the right things."
Biden voted early in Wilmington on Wednesday and received a virtual briefing from health experts. One, Dr David Kessler, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, warned, "We are in the midst of the third wave, and I don’t think anyone can tell you how high this is going to get."
Trump slammed for reckless virus stance
Donald Trump meanwhile, under attack for his handling of the worst health crisis in more than a century, breezily pledged on his final-week swing to "vanquish the virus", even as it sets records for confirmed new infections.
The president spent Wednesday in Arizona, where relaxed rules on social distancing made staging big rallies easier. Thousands gathered in close proximity without wearing masks — a trend that was expected to continue through more than a dozen events in the final sprint to Election Day.
Trump again mocked mask-wearing, saying: "In California, you have a special mask, you cannot under any circumstances take it off. You have to eat through the mask. Right."
The president's cavalier attitude to the virus and mask-wearing in particular drew more criticism from Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious diseases specialist and a member of the White House coronavirus task force.
On Wednesday he warned in a virtual event organised by Melbourne University in Australia that the pandemic was "getting worse and worse" in the United States. Complaining that "people were ridiculed for wearing masks" — a thinly-veiled reference to Trump — Fauci said the politicization of face-coverings was helping the disease spread.
The medical expert also said in another interview that large crowds with little social distancing or mask-wearing -- typical of Trump rallies -- could well act as "super-spreading" events.
Trump warns of 'Biden depression'
The pandemic’s consequences are escalating, with deaths climbing in 39 states and an average of 805 people dying daily nationwide — up from 714 two weeks ago. The sharp rise sent shockwaves through financial markets, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 900-plus points.
Trump, who frequently lauds rising markets, failed to mention the decline on Wednesday. But he promised that economic growth figures for the summer quarter, due Thursday, would be strong, declaring during his rally in Bullhead City, Arizona, "This election is a choice between a Trump super-recovery and a Biden depression."
"He’ll bury you in regulations, dismantle your police departments, dissolve our borders, confiscate your guns, terminate religious liberty, destroy your suburbs," Trump said in one of many over-the-top pronouncements about Biden.
"If you vote for Biden, it means no kids in school, no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgiving, no Christmas and no Fourth of July together," the president said at a rally in Goodyear, Arizona. "Other than that, you have a wonderful life."
Experts say instilling fear in one's opponent is usually the primary motivating factor behind such talk.
"It's pure fear and fear-based on a particular kind of ignorance that only works if your hearers have that particular kind of ignorance," Robin Lakoff, professor emerita of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, said of Trump's claims about Biden.
"The problem with the rhetoric is it's an alienating rhetoric for people who hear it as extreme and improbable," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
"It's also problematic," she said, "because you expect a president of the United States to calibrate his rhetoric to reality in at least some plausible way."
Biden heads later in the week to three more states Trump won in 2016: Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, where he’ll hold a joint Saturday rally with former President Barack Obama.
Both candidates are turning their focus to encouraging voters to turn out on Election Day.
More than 73 million Americans have already voted, absentee or by mail, and Trump and Biden are trying to energize the millions more who will vote in person on Tuesday.
While the Election Day vote traditionally favours Republicans and early votes tend toward Democrats, the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 227,000 Americans, has injected new uncertainty about the makeup of the electorate.
Because of concerns about submission deadlines, Postal Service backlogs and the potential for drawn-out legal challenges, Democrats are pressing their backers who have yet to return a ballot to head to the polls in person.
Trump, meanwhile, is banking on enthusiasm among his Election Day supporters to overcome indicated Democratic strength in some early returns.