Donald Trump is being forced to play defence in the closing weeks of the presidential election campaign with visits to states that he won handily four years ago, including North Carolina and Georgia.
The president will continue his whistle-stop tour of battleground states on Wednesday with a rally in Iowa, where polls show he is in a dead-heat with Democratic rival Joe Biden in a state that Mr Trump won by more than nine points in 2016.
It will be the president’s third rally in as many days, after visiting Sanford, Florida, on Monday, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday. He is also scheduled to make stops in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin before the end of the week — all states that he won in 2016.
Political strategists say the president’s schedule, which does not currently include stops in states that his campaign had hoped to “flip” like Minnesota, underscores his polling disadvantage heading into election day.
Mr Trump trails his Democratic challenger Joe Biden by 9.5 points nationwide, according to a Financial Times analysis of RealClearPolitics data. The president is also behind in most of the swing states that are key to winning the Electoral College, including those he won in 2016 against Hillary Clinton.
Republican strategist Doug Heye said the Trump campaign was playing “defence” by trying to hold on to the states that it won four years ago, rather than winning over voters in states that did not vote for the president.
“They are playing defence, and Biden and the Democrats are playing offence,” he said. “Democrats are trying to expand the map, Republicans are trying to hold the map. That is not to say that definitely Trump loses, but Trump is at a disadvantage.”
The president’s movements are mirrored by the Trump campaign’s advertising spending, which has been weighted heavily towards Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, according to data from Advertising Analytics.
The president’s return to in person campaigning comes less than two weeks after he was hospitalised for Covid-19. Mr Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, said at the weekend that the president was “no longer considered a transmission risk to others”.
Under current guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most people who have tested positive for coronavirus can stop self-isolating from 10 days after they start showing symptoms.
Mr Trump and Mr Biden were originally set to face off in the second presidential debate on Thursday in Miami, Florida. However, the president pulled out of the event after debate organisers said it would be held virtually, rather than in-person. A final debate is still scheduled for later this month in Nashville, Tennessee.
After Mr Trump said he would not participate in the second debate, Mr Biden agreed to appear on Thursday in a town-hall style broadcast, where voters ask him questions, on ABC.
On Wednesday, rival network NBC said it would broadcast a separate town hall with Mr Trump at the same time, angering the president’s critics, many of whom pointed out that the former real estate magnate had long held a lucrative contract with the network for his former reality TV show, The Apprentice.
Both the Trump and Biden campaigns are expected to announce their third-quarter fundraising hauls in the coming days. The Trump campaign last month said it and the Republican National Committee raised $210m in August, falling well behind the record-breaking $364.5m Mr Biden and the Democrats raised in the same month.