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President Trump claims country is 'rounding the corner' amid new COVID-19 surges

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Waterford Township — President Donald Trump continued ramped-up campaign efforts in Michigan on Friday while doubling down on his claims that the United States is "rounding the corner" in its fight against COVID-19.

The president's comments at a rally in Oakland County came the same day Michigan set a record for confirmed casesin a week for a third time this month and a day after state health officials announced restrictions aimed at stemming surges of the virus.

The Republican incumbent also slammed Democratic rival Joe Biden for his stances on trade policy and saying a "dark winter" is ahead because of COVID-19.

Trump's campaign, meanwhile, announced Friday that the president would be stopping three more times in Michigan during the final three days of the campaign. The president is holding an 11 a.m. Sunday rally in Macomb County's Washington Township, followed Monday by a 5:30 p.m. rally in Traverse City and a final campaign stop at 10:30 p.m. in Grand Rapids, where he ended his 2016 campaign in the wee hours of Election Day and predicted victory.

"Michigan is very important. It’s very important for Michigan that we win," Trump said at Friday's rally.

Michigan's 16 electoral votes remain critical for Trump to win a second term since political analysts say he has a narrow path of states to get to 270 electoral votes. Biden is leading or tied in the polls in key states that the president won four years ago, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. 

Biden and former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, are countering with Saturday afternoon drive-in campaign rallies in the predominantly Black cities of Flint and Detroit. They will be joined at the Detroit stop by legendary Motown singer Stevie Wonder, who is expected to perform. 

While Biden is leading Trump in Michigan by about 8 percentage points in the latest Detroit News-WDIV poll, Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey warned at a Thursday news conference that her projection of 50% turnout in the city, while above 2016's turnout of 48.6%, is disappointing. 

"But that's not enough, Detroit,” Winfrey said.

U.S. President Donald Trump takes the stage to speak to supporters at the Oakland International Airport in Waterford Twp., Friday, October 30, 2020, for his Make America Great Again Victory Rally.

Fears of lackluster enthusiasm in 2016 prompted former President Bill Clinton to hold an emergency meeting of Democratic officials in Detroit a week before the election to boost African-American turnout for his wife, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump still ended up winning Michigan 47.5%-47.3% or a slim margin of 10,704 votes.

During Trump's first campaign rally of the year in Metro Detroit, the president on Friday touted his economic accomplishments, downplayed the coronavirus and contended the nation would deliver a vaccine in "just a number of weeks."

"Without it, we’re still rounding the corner,"  Trump said. "We have it. But without it, we round the corner."

At another point, he argued countries in Europe were seeing surges despite "draconian" lockdowns and claimed, without mentioning direct evidence, that doctors were classifying deaths related to other issues as COVID-19 mortalities.

“If you get it, stay away. If you get it, you’re going to get better, and then you’re going to be immune, and it’s a whole thing and it goes away,” Trump said at one point.

Trump made the comments as the number of hospitalizations tied to COVID-19 in Michigan has tripled in recent weeks, according to state data. Deaths tied to the virus have also increased but remain well below levels from the spring when the virus initially peaked here.

COVID and cold weather

With temperatures hanging just above 30 degrees, thousands of people gathered for Trump's rally at the Oakland County International Airport in Waterford Township four days before Election Day.

The rally took place a day after Michigan health officials announced new restrictions on gatherings aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan and labeled the trends the state is experiencing "incredibly concerning."

Michigan set a new weekly record of confirmed COVID-19 cases for the third-straight week with 16,362 reported through Friday and still an additional day to add to the count.

At last week's presidential debate in Nashville, Biden said the country was headed toward “a dark winter" because of the spread of the virus. 

"Joe Biden is promising a long, dark, painful winter,” Trump said Friday. “That’s just what our country needs is a long, dark winter and a leader that talks about it."

Many rally attendees were wearing masks on Friday. But many others were not wearing them. Andrea Schultz of Novi, who didn't have a mask on, noted the event was taking place outside.

"I think it's politically overblown," she said of COVID-19.

As of Friday, Michigan has reported 174,338 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7,309 deaths. During Friday's rally, Trump said Fox News conservative host Laura Ingraham was in attendance and noted she was wearing a mask.

"Are you wearing mask?" Trump asked from the stage and added "she's being very politically correct." 

Trade agreement emphasized

The president spent a large portion of his hour-long speech on Friday talking about COVID-19, but he also focused on the economy. He highlighted the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which he signed in January to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, automakers have to produce cars with 75% of parts originating from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The requirement, referred to as “rules of origin,” is an increase from 62.5% under the NAFTA rules. In January, General Motors Co. said "the agreement is vital to the success of the North American auto industry."

On Friday, Trump said the new agreement is "a deal that’s good for Michigan" and would create tens of thousands of jobs in the state.

"A vote for Biden is a vote to extinguish, demolish and wipe out Michigan’s auto industry,” Trump said.

On the campaign trail, the former vice president has focused on an economic plan he says will create 1 million auto jobs by promoting the sale of more electric vehicles. During an Oct. 15 ABC News town hall, he said about electric vehicles, "We’re not investing. We’re not doing any of the research.”

It wasn't clear if Biden was talking about the federal government or automakers, who have committed to spend tens of billions of dollars in the next few years on autonomous and electric vehicles. Biden also has played up how the auto industry initially rebounded from the Great Recession during the Obama administration.

Trump also said Friday that auto workers in Michigan support his campaign despite the leaders of the United Auto Workers union endorsing the Democrat.

"Your leadership stinks. All they want is their dues," the president said.

Biden hits back

Biden's campaign countered in a statement that unemployment has jumped and jobs are down in Michigan during the pandemic.

"With four days until Election Day, working families in Michigan are hurting," Biden said. "More than 167,000 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19, cases are on the rise, and hundreds of thousands of Michiganders are out of work.

"And yet President Trump is only offering more lies and distractions — not a plan to get the virus under control or to create good-paying, middle-class jobs."

Oakland County is Michigan's second-most populous and has been trending against Republicans in recent years. In 2016, Trump lost it to Hillary Clinton by 8 percentage points. Two years later, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won it by 17 points in her successful run for governor.

But Trump's supporters in the county contended Friday that the president will beat expectations in Oakland County.

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump wait for his arrival at the Oakland International Airport in Waterford Twp., Friday, October 30, 2020, for his Make America Great Again Victory Rally.

"I think it's under-reported how well he's doing," said Schultz, a Novi resident who's lived in Oakland County for 20 years. "People are afraid to say (they support Trump) because it just becomes an argument.

"I don't like to necessarily share that I am a Trump fan unless I know they are."

Schultz attended her sixth Trump rally on Friday. Roxanne McCallum of Commerce Township attended her first. McCallum said she thinks the president is "doing well" in the county despite polling that has suggested otherwise.

"It's friendly. It's happy. It's exciting. It's support of America," she said of the rally.

Supporters wait to enter through Secret Service security before U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Oakland International Airport in Waterford Twp., Friday, October 30, 2020, for his Make America Great Again Victory Rally.

On Friday, the president touted his efforts to reopen the economy and criticized Whitmer, with whom he's clashed for months. For the third straight Trump rally in Michigan, the crowd chanted "lock her up" when the president mentioned the Democratic governor.

"Not me. Not me," said Trump in response to the chant,indicating it was the crowd who was responsible.

The chants have occurred the same month authorities arrested 14 people in connection to a plot to storm the state Capitol and kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat.

During a Lansing rally on Tuesday, Trump noted that his appointees — the U.S. attorneys for Detroit and Grand Rapids — filed the charges against six of the defendants who are accused in the alleged kidnapping scheme. But the president seemed to question the strength of the cases. 

A lone spectator shoots pictures from the top of the riser behind the stage as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump wait for his arrival at the Oakland International Airport in Waterford Twp., Friday, October 30, 2020, for his Make America Great Again Victory Rally.

“It was our people that helped her out with her problem," the president said. "We’ll have to see if it’s a problem, right? People are entitled to say maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t.”

In the latest Detroit News-WDIV poll, the president was losing Michigan voters who consider themselves "suburban" by 18 percentage points, 55% to 37%. He was winning male voters by 11 points but losing female voters by 24.5 points.

Trump's appearance in Oakland County will reach voters across the large Detroit media market and could help limit damage in the county, said John Sellek, CEO of the consulting firm Harbor Strategic Public Affairs.

"Suburban parents are not a monolith, so there are differing levels of willingness to accept progressive policy in exchange for registering a protest vote," said Sellek, who previously worked for Republicans. "The economy is his strong suit there, and he can address that during his visit."

Gloria Marsh was among the female voters from Oakland County who showed up to support the president on Friday.

"It's exciting to see all of the young kids that are here today and just people in general. It's just been a lot of fun to see the supporters," Marsh said as she entered the venue.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Ariana Taylor contributed.