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Covid-19 to take centre stage as parties refocus in race for White House

Biden to contrast Democratic approach to pandemic with Trump's

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Pressure: Trump reiterated his belief that the virus would ‘disappear. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Pressure: Trump reiterated his belief that the virus would ‘disappear. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters

REUTERS

Pressure: Trump reiterated his belief that the virus would ‘disappear. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters

The Trump and Biden presidential campaigns now see the coronavirus response as the major force shaping the results of November's election, prompting both camps to try to refocus their campaigns more heavily on the pandemic, according to officials and advisers of both campaigns.

Advisers to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden see the Covid-19 crisis as perhaps the clearest way yet to contrast the former vice president with President Donald Trump, using the stumbling response and renewed surge in cases as a way to paint Mr Trump as uninformed, incapable of empathy and only concerned about his own political standing.

Mr Trump's advisers, by contrast, are seeking ways to reframe his response to the coronavirus - even as the president himself largely seeks to avoid the topic because he views it as a political loser.

They are sending health officials to swing states, putting doctors on TV in regional markets where the virus is surging, crafting messages on an economic recovery and writing talking points for allies to deliver to potential voters.

The goal is to convince Americans that they can live with the virus and that schools should reopen and professional sport should return.

They will add that a vaccine is likely to arrive by the end of the year and the economy will continue to improve.

White House officials also hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day, according to three people familiar with the White House's thinking, who requested anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.

Americans will "live with the virus being a threat", in the words of one of those people, a senior administration official.

"They're of the belief that people will get over it or if we stop highlighting it, the base will move on and the public will learn to accept 50,000 to 100,000 new cases a day," said a former administration official in touch with the campaign.

Mr Trump's campaign officials and advisers recognise that the administration's coronavirus response presents one of their biggest political challenges in the coming months, as voters generally disapprove of Mr Trump's handling of the issue.

Faced with some of Mr Trump's tide of problematic comments - such as suggesting lungs could be cleaned of coronavirus with disinfectants - the administration also plans to rely on surrogates to speak on the issue, including Vice President Mike Pence and White House coronavirus response co-ordinator Deborah Birx.

Several advisers have proposed coronavirus events in forthcoming weeks that Mr Trump has agreed to participate in that will highlight a potential vaccine and economic recovery, according to two campaign advisers and a White House official.

Several advisers said Mr Trump is still shellshocked by the faltering economy, protests over racial injustice and his declining political fortunes.

Some close to him, including a range of Republican senators and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have encouraged him to focus on blaming China for the pandemic and to emphasise the administration's successes in the response, including preventing a widely feared ventilator shortage and increasing the country's testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day.

"Anytime you're an incumbent, you kind of own these things more than the challengers," said Senator Lindsey Graham, who added that the election will hinge on whether the economy has made a robust recovery, which can only happen if the outbreak comes under control.

Mr Biden has ramped up attacks on Mr Trump's response and outlined how he would place the federal government at the centre of the response if he was elected, a contrast to Mr Trump's decision to largely leave it to the states to procure testing kits, personal protective equipment and decide when and how to reopen.

Mr Trump reiterated his belief last week that the virus would simply "disappear", despite new daily infections surpassing 50,000 for the first time last week and more than 127,000 Americans dying from the disease.

Polls have shown Americans growing increasingly worried about the course of the outbreak. A Gallup poll on Thursday found 65pc of Americans saying that the coronavirus situation was getting worse - up from 48pc the week before.

Irish Independent