(Headline USA) President Donald Trump and his allies fought for momentum in election battleground states on Friday after a solid debate performance the night before that gave renewed hope to Republicans.
Trump immediately jumped back into campaign mode with just 11 days remaining in the 2020 contest. His heavy travel schedule contrasted with the energy-less Biden’s plans to stay for a single speaking event near his Delaware home on Friday, and only two events in nearby Pennsylvania on Saturday. It highlighted the candidates’ divergent strategies, styles and policy prescriptions shaping the election’s closing days. Nearly 50 million votes have already been cast, with an additional 100 million or so expected before a winner is declared.
Biden’s team was forced to defend an unpopular political stance on Friday and tried to walk it back. In the final moments of Thursday’s debate, the former vice president said he supports a “transition” away from oil in the U.S. in favor of renewable energy, saying it “pollutes, significantly.” Trump jumped on his stance immediately, telling voters in oil-rich states like Texas and Pennsylvania, “I hope you’re listening.”
The Biden campaign released a statement hours later declaring that he would phase out taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuel companies, not the industry altogether.
While ending the nation’s reliance on fossil fuel is popular among many liberals, that prospect could hurt Biden among working-class voters in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas who depend on the industry, and fracking in particular, to make a living.
“Let’s be really clear about this: Joe Biden is not going to ban fracking,” running mate Kamala Harris told reporters in Georgia on Friday, despite multitudes of video evidence the both of the Democrat nominees have said they would. “He is going to deal with the oil subsidies. You know, the president likes to take everything out of context. But let’s be clear, what Joe was talking about was banning subsidies, but he will not ban fracking in America.”
Trump’s allies immediately began running new attack ads seizing on the Democrats’ inconsistent answers on energy. One ad unveiled Friday calls Biden and Harris “fracking liars.” Another claims Biden’s plans could cost up to 600,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone.
Speaking in the Oval Office before making multiple stops in Florida, Trump lapped up positive feedback for his toned-down debate performance, which marked a sharp shift away from his constant badgering of Biden in last month’s contest.
“This was better,” an optimistic Trump said, predicting as always sweeping success on Election Day even as polls suggest he and his party are behind. “It’s going to be a great red wave like you’ve never seen before.”
Both campaigns predictably claimed a boost from the televised debate that drew an audience of tens of millions. But with roughly one-third of expected ballots already cast through early voting, it is unclear how much the faceoff could alter the course of the campaign.
During the debate, Trump rosily predicted that the pandemic, which is escalating in several states, will “go away;” Biden ominously countered that the nation was headed toward “a dark winter.”
“He says that we’re learning to live with it,” Biden said of Trump. “People are learning to die with it.”
Even in the closing days of the race, the Democrat has maintained a cautious campaign schedule, citing the pandemic, while Trump has been a much more aggressive traveler. With Biden in Delaware, Trump was attending a pair of rallies in battleground Florida before casting an early ballot on Saturday in his adopted home state.
Republicans have questioned Biden’s physical and mental stamina.
GOP strategists believe, however, that the most effective attacks focus on Biden’s liberal policies. And for Friday, at least, Biden’s misstep on fossil fuels gave Trump the opening his party had been looking for.
Perhaps sensing that the comment could soon appear in Trump campaign ads, Biden did his own clean-up before boarding his plane after the debate, unconvincingly declaring, “We’re not going to ban fossil fuels. We’ll get rid of the subsidies of fossil fuels, but not going to get rid of fossil fuels for a long time.”
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.