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Obama and Biden in Detroit: 'Leave no doubt about who we are'

Detroit —Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama urged Michigan voters to turn out for Tuesday's election "to reclaim what’s best" about the country during two fiery Saturday rallies.

As the sun set on the evening of Halloween, Biden and Obama stressed in Detroit the stakes of the vote, which is three days away, and slammed President Donald Trump. They said he had bungled the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed the virus to spread without working to control it.

"We’ve got to leave no doubt about who we are and what this country stands for," Obama told a crowd of hundreds gathered for a drive-in rally on Belle Isle.

“For God’s sake, please vote," Biden said at one point.

The Michigan state flag is visible as former President Barack Obama jogs back on stage to join Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, at the end of a rally at Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

The crowd — some of whom left their cars and gathered near the stage without social distancing — heard speeches by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and a performance from Motown singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder, a Michigan native.

Obama, the former president, targeted his remarks at the GOP. Republicans have no plan on health care and Trump cares about "feeding his ego," he said, while Biden "cares about keeping you safe." If Trump focused on responding to COVID-19, the nation wouldn't be experiencing new record highs in cases of the virus, Obama said.

Biden said he would institute a national strategy on testing for the virus, mask wearing and contact tracing. The first step toward beating COVID-19 is "is beating Donald Trump," he contended.

The former vice president's remarks in Michigan came as the state ended a week that brought a record number of new case confirmations: 20,154. Hospitalizations tied to the virus are also trending upward as health officials have labeled the numbers "incredibly concerning."

In front of a billboard that said, "Motor City for Joe & Kamala," referring to Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, Obama's microphone cut out at one point.

"They’re restarting the system,” someone eventually yelled from the crowd.

"That’s what we’re going to do in three days," Obama responded, drawing a roar of laughter.

Young people listen as former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally at Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, also attended by Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden.

One day after Trump appeared at an Oakland County rally, Obama and Biden held drive-in events in Flint and Detroit on Saturday. The Republican incumbent will be back in the state on Sunday for a rally in Macomb County.

On Monday, the eve of the election, he will hold two more events in Michigan, which he won by 10,704 votes in 2016. Daughter Ivanka Trump is scheduled to make a 12:30 p.m. campaign appearance in Eaton Rapids.

"Joe Biden could not have picked a better surrogate to highlight President Trump's message of the Great American Comeback than Barack Obama," said Chris Gustafson, Trump's Michigan campaign spokesman. "Michiganders rejected the failed Obama-Biden policies of shipping jobs overseas and cowering to our enemies four years ago and come Tuesday they will reaffirm their decision by voting to re-elect President Trump and his agenda of 'Promises Made, Promises Kept.'"

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally at Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, also attended by Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden.

At Flint's Northwestern High School on Saturday afternoon, Obama extolled his former vice president as “my buddy” before a mostly African-American audience and said Biden would restore decency and competence to the White House. The Republican president is set to visit Michigan three times across two days on Sunday and Monday. 

"But this Tuesday, everything is on the line," Obama said in a 25-minute speech in  Flint before introducing Biden. "Our jobs are on the line. Our health care is on the line. Whether or not we get this pandemic under control is on the line."

But "you can choose a better America" by voting for Biden and running mate, Kamala Harris, America's first Black president said at an event attended by almost 180 carloads of attendees.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., speaks before Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama speak at a rally at Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

Obama hit Trump as an egotistic president who “tweeted conspiracy theories that Navy Seals didn’t actually kill Bin Laden,” suggested “bleach as a possible cure for COVID” and still is comparing his inauguration crowd size to Obama's as more than 220,000 people have died from the virus.

The Democrat mocked the Republican president for claiming without evidence at his Friday rally in Waterford Township that doctors are inflating COVID-19 deaths because they can profit off of the mortalities.

Beverly Hills, Mich. residents Mirjam Gunter, front, and Jessica Damoiseaux decorate their vehicle with various signs to show their support of Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign rally, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Detroit.

During his own remarks, Biden followed by questioning how Trump could "have the gall" to make such claims.

"What in the hell is wrong with this man?" the former vice president asked before apologizing about his language. "...It's perverted. He may believe it because he doesn't do anything other than for money.

"People of this nation have suffered and have sacrificed for nine months, none more so than the doctors and front-line health care workers, and this president is questioning their character, their integrity, their commitment to their fellow Americans? It's more than offensive. It's a disgrace

Biden and Obama pounded away on a variety of themes, including that Trump is set to leave office with fewer U.S. jobs than when he took office. Trump was on pace to add more jobs before the pandemic took hold in late February.

Trump has "caused people to get sick from these rallies he has," Obama said, adding that some of the rallies have become "super spreader events."

Michigan Senator Gary Peters addresses the crowd at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Detroit.

Through last Sunday, Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services had been made aware of one case stemming from Trump’s Sept. 10 Freeland rally. It’s not clear whether that individual contracted the virus before, after or at the rally, HHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said last Sunday. 

Biden, who called Obama “a great president,” said Michigan could help kick Trump out of power if it turns out on Tuesday.

“In three days, we can put an end to a presidency that has divided this nation,” the 77-year-old Delaware Democrat said. “In three days, we can put an end to a presidency that has failed to protect this nation. In three days, we can put an end to a presidency that has fanned the flames of hate all across this nation. And my message to you is simple: The power to change this country is in your hands.”

Trump responded on Twitter, arguing that the lead contamination of Flint's water after the city's water source was switched in 2014 happened during the Obama administraton.

"Biden & Obama owe a massive apology to the People of Flint. The water was poisoned on their watch," tweeted the president, who visited Flint's water plant during the 2016 campaign.

Trump also tied Biden to Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, whose emergency managers approved and oversaw Flint's water switch and whose Department of Environmental Quality was blamed for not requiring the inclusion of corrosion control chemicals in the city's water. Snyder has endorsed the former vice president.

"Not only did they fail them, Biden proudly accepted the endorsement of disastrous Gov Rick Snyder! Unlike Biden, I will always stand with the People of the Great State of MICHIGAN!," Trump tweeted.

Biden and Obama are making a late push for support in Michigan, where Trump won by 10,704 votes four years ago.

Biden and Obama afterward are set to travel to Detroit, where another drive-in event will take place at 5:30 p.m. and feature Motown legendary singer Stevie Wonder.

President Barack Obama speaks to a socially distanced crowd at Flint's Northwestern High School during a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

In 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton got about 102,000 fewer votes combined out of Genesee County, where Flint is located, and Wayne County, where Detroit is located, than Obama did four years earlier. The two counties have the largest percentages of Black residents in Michigan.

Before Obama and Biden took the stage, Whitmer called the Trump administration "cruel and callous" and said "the whole world is watching Michigan" and how it will vote. 

Biden "is going to show up" for Flint when many others failed to do so over the water crisis and COVID-19, said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, before Obama and Biden spoke. The congressman reminded the crowd to remember who "showed up" for Flint.

While polling has shown Biden to have a lead in Michigan, Trump's campaign has argued that the surveys have been off and has flooded the state with surrogates.

Donald Trump Jr. and rock musician Ted Nugent visited a gun company in Davison on Saturday morning, where the president's son argued that Democrats are too radical to represent mainstream America.  

The president himself will return Sunday morning for a Macomb County event and two stops in Michigan on Monday, the eve of the election, including a final 10:30 p.m. rally in Grand Rapids, where he concluded his campaign four years ago.

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

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a rally at Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, also attended by Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden.

nullMichiganians traveled to Flint from other parts of the state for the Obama-Biden rally.

“It’s critical and we need decency back in the White House,” said Diane Zuckschwerdt, 50, of Owosso.

Biden, Zuckschwerdt said, “can bring people together” because he has “decency and honesty.”

John and Jessica Bates, of Livonia, drove up to Flint to hear Obama and Biden, a tandem they said they loved in the White House for the eight years prior to Trump.

“Obama…, he’s a smart man. I think he was a great president,” said John Bates, 71. “He’s going to do a lot for Joe Biden” in motivating people to vote.

Jessica Bates, 67, said the race “is a little too close” and Obama's visit will help push Biden over the top in Michigan.

Biden led Trump by about 8 percentage points in a Detroit News and WDIV-TV poll of 600 likely Michigan voters, who were surveyed Oct. 23-25. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.

Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2017.

However, both campaigns are closely watching absentee voting and turnout estimates in Michigan's largest cities, including Detroit, a Democrat stronghold where lower than expected turnout on Tuesday would be problematic for Biden and higher than expected turnout would likely hurt Trump's chances.

"We're tracking a little bit lower turnout," said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, when asked about the early numbers in Detroit and Wayne County. "Of course, Election Day is around the corner. I just don't put too much weight into that until we, obviously, see those returns.

"A lot of voters are planning to show up on Election Day."

In 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton received 76,000 fewer votes in Wayne County than Obama did in 2012. Clinton got 46,872 fewer votes in Detroit than Obama.

In two of the last three statewide elections, Obama, the nation's first African American president, has campaigned for Democrats in Detroit, a city where 79% of the population is Black.

On Oct. 26, 2018, he appeared at Cass Tech High School with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gretchen Whitmer, who were on the ballot that year. In 2014, he campaigned for then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer at Wayne State University's Matthaei Center athletic gymnasium.

Trump fared better in Genesee County, where Flint is located, in November 2016 than Republican Mitt Romney did in 2012 against Obama in part because he paid a September 2016 visit to Flint. Trump lost to Clinton in the county by about 18,500 votes or 9 percentage points in 2016. Romney lost to Obama by about 57,100 votes or 28 percentage points in 2012.

Clinton received about 26,000 fewer votes in Genesee County than Obama did four years earlier.

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in the county at a rally, where Maurice Davis, a Democrat and vice president of the Flint City Council, spoke in support of Trump.

Davis told The Detroit News his decision to back the GOP candidate was prompted by frustration with the conditions in Flint and the Black community.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

lfleming@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.