President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden took rhetorical swipes at each other on Monday as the presidential campaign entered its traditional homestretch on the US Labor Day holiday.
Trump described Biden, whom he trails in national polls, as a threat to the economy and “stupid,” while Biden took aim at Trump’s reported disparaging of fallen troops.
At a White House news conference, Trump said: “Biden and his very liberal running mate (Kamala Harris), the most liberal person in Congress by the way – is not a competent person in my opinion, would destroy this country and would destroy this economy.”
He also called Biden “stupid.” Trump has frequently referred to the former vice president as “Sleepy Joe.”
Trump pushed back again against a report in The Atlantic that he had referred to fallen U.S. soldiers as “suckers” and “losers,” calling it “a hoax.” The story has dominated news coverage for days and threatens Trump’s support among veterans and military members, a key voting bloc.
“There’s nobody that has more respect for not only our military, but for people that gave their lives in the military,” Trump said.
Biden cited the reported remarks while campaigning in the electoral battleground state of Pennsylvania.
Referring to his son Beau Biden, who served in Iraq as a member of the Delaware National Guard and died of brain cancer in 2015, he said: “Beau was wasn’t a loser or a sucker. … He served with heroes.”
Biden’s visit to Pennsylvania on Monday kicked off a flurry of travel to battleground states this week by both Biden and Trump as some opinion polls show the race tightening with less than 60 days to go until the November 3 election.
With the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest over racism and police brutality commanding attention in recent months, Biden is seeking to maintain his edge by painting the Republican president as an ineffectual leader who thrives on chaos and has left the working class behind.
Trump has struggled to change the contours of the campaign despite highly charged rhetoric on racial polarisation and “law and order” intended to motivate his base and draw new supporters in suburban parts of key swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Biden meets labour leaders
Biden, meanwhile, was collecting a trio of endorsements from organised labour as he headed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for an AFL-CIO virtual town hall with union President Richard Trumka.
Meeting first with local labour leaders in the back yard of a supporter’s home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Biden spoke about trade, the coronavirus and the economy as he criticised Trump for “refusing to deal with the problems that affect ordinary people” and called for strengthening unions.
Biden promised to be the “strongest labour president” in the history of the country, vowing to hold executives legally accountable if they interfere with union organizing, and to raise the minimum wage and strengthen the National Labor Relations Board.
“Folks have figured out that it’s not the financial wizards of Wall Street that make this country run. It’s you, the essential workers,” Biden said during the virtual event with Trumka.
Earlier on Monday, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris met the family of a Wisconsin man shot by police last month to kick off her Labor Day visit to a critical swing state.
Harris gathered with Jacob Blake’s father, two sisters and members of his legal team at the airport in Milwaukee while Blake’s mother and lawyer Ben Crump joined by phone. Blake also joined the conversation by phone.
Biden met the family last week in Milwaukee before visiting Kenosha, the city where police shot Blake seven times in the back, leaving him paralysed from the waist down.
Trump’s narrow win in Wisconsin in 2016 helped to send him to the White House.
The state’s importance in the 2020 elections was underscored by all four candidates campaigning there over the past week.
The Biden campaign believes its labour support could help get out the vote in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Al Jazeera and news agencies