First lady Melania Trump finally attended a campaign rally alongside her husband, President Donald Trump, Thursday with just five days to go before the 2020 presidential election – with the couple kissing on stage before she opened the event for him.
She told an almost entirely mask-free crowd in Tampa that her husband and his team was ‘working on not only destroying the virus and building back the economy, they are focused on creating ways for people to safely stop isolating and safely gathering with friends at a safe distance.’
In front of her were about 6,000 people packed so tightly that they were sprayed with water to keep them cool in 86-degree heat.
The first couple’s supporters were in place hours before their scheduled early afternoon arrival and there were at least three medical emergencies announced over loudspeakers, and organizers deployed water hoses to keep packed supporters cool.
The potential for medical problems was just days after dozens of supporters needed medical attention at the end of a rally in freezing conditions in Omaha, Nebraska, when shuttle buses to take them to their cars failed to arrive.
Coronavirus cases in Florida have fallen from the July peak of 15,000 cases a day but were at 4,115 cases on Wednesday and are on an upward trend.
The crowd chanted ‘we love you’ as she walked on stage with her husband, and cheered as he kissed her at the end of her brief speech.
The first lady, with Trump standing along her side, told a packed and sweaty crowd, ‘A vote for President Trump is a vote for a better America.’
Opening with a kiss: Donald and Melania Trump kissed after she opened for him on stage – to a packed crowd
You’ll be able to stop isolating and see your friends at a distance: Melania Trump promised that her husband was working towards these goals – to an audience packed in and mask free
Backing for her husband: Melania Trump spoke in front of a packed crowd at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, to chants of ‘we love you’
Here for the first couple: This was the scene of crowds waiting for the rally with Melania and Donald Trump in Tampa – her first appearance with on the campaign trail in more than a year
Virtually mask free: There was no social distancing and no sign of masks as an estimated crowd of 6,000 packed into the rally venue
Red sea, mask free: This was the scene shortly before the arrival of Donald and Melania Trump in Tampa for their rally
Getting ready for the president: Supporters in the packed venue were stuck in 85 degree heat waiting for the Republican candidate to arrive at the Raymond James stadium
Four more years: Before Trump arrived the crowd tested out chants with warm-up acts including Florida governor Ron DeSantis -but did not socially distance or wear masks
Packed into the bleachers: There was no social distancing in the seats behind where the president was due to speak
A new poll in Florida released Thursday shows that in the days before the election, 51 per cent of likely voters in the swing state prefer Biden over the 47 per cent who support Trump – a 4 per cent margin in a poll with a 4.4 per cent margin of error
And she pointed out that they were back in their home state.
She ticked off a number of her husband’s accomplishments including ‘historic peace in the Middle East.’
‘We didn’t just talk about it, we moved our embassy to Jerusalem,’ she noted.
The first lady also said the economy was ‘restored.’ ‘And our unemployment shrank.’
She pledged that ‘healthcare for every citizen remains a priority for him.’
Melania Trump also said her husband continues to work toward ‘destroying the virus.’
At times the audience chanted for her to turn up her mic, as she didn’t speak with the same volume as her husband, who began his stump speech right after.
Trump’s warm-up act in the 86-degree heat was Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had to call out twice to get audience members’ medical attention, during his brief speech. Another speaker prior to DeSantis also had to call out for assistance on behalf of someone in the crowd.
Supporters, a super-majority not wearing masks, crammed up near the front where the podium was set up.
At one point prior to Trump’s arrival, a giant fountain started super-spraying the audience.
The appearance by the first lady underlines the importance of Florida.
The last time Melania Trump attended a campaign rally was in June 2019 in Orlando, Florida.
Melania Trump was originally supposed to make her campaign rally debut on October 20, accompanying her husband to his event in Erie, Pennsylvania, but nixed the trip due to a lingering cough from the coronavirus.
Both Melania Trump and the president tested positive for COVID-19 on October 1.
Trump resumed his rallies on October 12.
Line up for Trump: This was the scene in the morning as supporters arrived for the joint rally with Melania and Donald Trump
No sign of masks: The crowds gathering in the seated area were apparently eschewing the government’s safety guidelines
The first public event the first lady attended after coming down with the coronavirus was the October 22 presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee.
Then, on Tuesday, she made a solo excursion to Atglen, Pennsylvania with former counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, to shore up support in the Philadelphia suburbs.
There, she launched a full-scale attack against Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his party.
‘Joe Biden’s policies and socialist agenda will only serve to destroy America and all that has been built in the past four years,’ the first lady said. ‘We must keep Donald in the White House so he can finish what he’s started and our country can continue to flourish.’
She reminded potential voters that her husband was dealing with an impeachment trial as the coronavirus was coming to U.S. shores.
‘Let us also not forget what the Democrats chose to focus on when COVID-19 first came into our country. While the President was taking decisive actions to keep the American people safe, the Democrats were wasting American taxpayer dollars in a sham impeachment,’ she said.
‘They cared more about removing our elected president. Meanwhile, I watched Donald continue to work hard to keep people informed and calm, to protect our economy, and make hard and unpopular decisions to do all he could to keep us all safe,’ she continued.
She repeated her husband’s attack line against Biden – that he called it ‘Xenophobic hysteria’ – implementing his partial travel ban from China in late January.
‘Now he suggests that he could have done a better job,’ she said. ‘Well, the American people can look at Joe Biden’s 36 years in congress and eight years in the vice presidency and determine whether they think he’ll finally be able to get something done for the American people.’
Trump and Joe Biden are both campaigning in Florida on Thursday, where they will hold their respective rallies just hours apart, as the candidates chase votes in the swing state essential for a win next week.
Florida, now the president’s home state, is crucial for Trump to earn a second term as it’s the 2020 battleground state with the most Electoral College votes.
Biden’s was joined by his late son Beau’s daughter Natalie (right) for his campaign swing through Florida on Thursday
Biden and his granddaughter departed rainy New Castle, Delaware for the Sunshine State
Both candidates will hold their campaign events in the gulf coast city of Tampa, where they will encourage voters to turn out on November 3 in an area of Florida known for its rapid residential growth, including sprawling suburbs.
Besides holding the rallies in Tampa, the similarities in campaigning end there.
Trump is holding his midday rally in a lot just outside Buccaneer’s Stadium, which also happens to be an early voting location in Hillsborough County.
The close proximity will surely cause a log jam for those looking to cast their early votes in-person at that specific location. Meaning, the president can seriously amp up voter turnout for him before, during and after his rally.
The Hillsborough County election supervisor has already issued a statement warning voters of traffic delays.
Although electioneering is prohibited within 150 feet of a polling station, the rally is technically on the outskirts of the no-electioneering boundary – meaning there is nothing that can be done to stop the president from holding the event despite fuming from the Biden camp.
Trump’s rally is expected to mirror his hundreds of others, with thousands of fanatic supporters gathered in close-proximity to one another. And if his previous coronavirus-era rallies are any indication, there will be no social distancing or requirements for face coverings.Biden’s campaign event, which will be held Thursday evening, will be a drive-in rally style to ensure social distancing.
Ultra Trump loyalists began arriving at Raymond James Stadium, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play, hours ahead of the president’s rally
Thousands of Trump supporters lined up to gain access to the afternoon rally
Trump won Florida in 2016 by a margin of 1.2 per cent, earning 48.6 per cent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 47.4 per cent – the state would be a major win for either candidate.
According to a new NBC News/Marist poll released Thursday, Biden has 4 per cent more support in the Sunshine State than Trump – especially field by his support among seniors and independent voters.
Of the 743 likely voters polled in Florida October 25-27, 51 per cent say they support Biden to the 47 per cent who favor Trump. Notably, the poll’s margin of error is at plus or minus 4.4. Percentage points.
Only 2 percent of Florida voters are undecided or are voting for someone other than Trump or Biden.
Florida has been deemed by Cook Political Report as a toss up, and with 29 Electoral College votes, it is the most influential ‘toss up’ state.
The dueling rallies highlight the importance of the region, as Tampa embodies a wide variety of Floridians with urban, suburban and rural demographics as well as a spectrum of races and everything from working class to retired Americans.
If Trump is going to have an upset victory again, Florida is the state that will help him achieve that, and if Biden wants to stop the president’s chance at reelection, Florida is the one state that could do that.
More than 73 million Americans have already voted, whether absentee or early voting by mail or in-person.
Florida is deemed a ‘toss up’ state, and is the 2020 swing state with the most Electoral College votes at 29
Trump and Biden have kicked into high gear with rigorous campaign schedules as they try to energize the millions who have not yet voted and will turn up in-person on Tuesday.
The president is also planning to rally in South Florida this weekend while the former vice president is holding a Thursday event earlier in the day before his rally in Democrat-rich Broward County, which just north of Miami encompasses Fort Lauderdale.
While the Election Day vote traditionally favors Republicans and early votes tend toward Democrats, the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the U.S., has injected new uncertainty about the makeup of the electorate.
The visit to Florida comes as Biden has framed his closing argument to voters on responsible management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Even if I win, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic,’ Biden said Wednesday during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. ‘I do promise this: We will start on day one doing the right things.’
Trump promises the nation is already on course to ‘vanquish the virus.’
The president spent Wednesday in Arizona, where relaxed rules on social distancing made staging big rallies easier. Thousands gathered in close proximity without wearing masks – a trend that was expected to continue through more than a dozen events in the final sprint to Election Day.
After his rally in Tampa Thursday evening, Trump will travel with first lady Melania to Fayetteville, North Carolina for another rally.
He has scheduled a much more ambitious campaign schedule in the days leading up to the election than the Democratic nominee – sometimes holding three rallies a day along with other campaign and presidential duties.
Biden, meanwhile, heads later in the week to three more states Trump won in 2016: Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, where he’ll hold a joint Saturday rally with former President Barack Obama.
The pandemic’s consequences were escalating, with deaths climbing in 39 states and an average of 805 people dying daily nationwide – up from 714 two weeks ago. The sharp rise sent shockwaves through financial markets, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 900-plus points.
Trump, who frequently lauds rising markets, failed to mention the decline on Wednesday. But he promised that economic growth figures for the summer quarter, due Thursday, would be strong, declaring during a rally in Bullhead City, Arizona, ‘This election is a choice between a Trump super-recovery and a Biden depression.’
Trump is betting on the GOP´s vast field and data operations, and efforts known as ‘poll flushing’ – monitoring precinct lists for who has and has not yet voted – to provide a late boost of votes on Election Day. The Republican National Committee, which has more than 3,000 field staff and claims more than 2.5 million volunteers, will use that information to reach out to Trump supporters who have not voted throughout Election Day to ensure they get to the polls.
‘We will continue our historic voter outreach efforts by knocking on over 4.5 million doors and making 15 million more calls to ensure voters turn out to the polls and vote for President Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot,’ party spokesperson Mandi Merritt said.
Nowhere may those efforts be more important than in Florida. Without the battleground state’s 29 electoral votes, Trump’s path to victory is exceptionally difficult.
Trump is banking on local news coverage of his visit to overcome a substantial advertising deficit stemming from a late cash crunch. Biden and his allies are outspending Trump and his backers by more than 3-to-1 in Florida – about $23 million to about $7 million – in the final push to Election Day, according to data from ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
In both Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, and the adjacent Pinellas County, Democrats are crushing vote by mail. As of Wednesday morning, more than 53,000 Democrats had voted by mail in Hillsborough than Republicans. In Pinellas, the largest of the four counties in the state to switch from Obama to Trump in 2016, that number was just shy of 30,000 more Democrats voting by mail than Republicans.
Republicans in both counties have a slight edge in the state’s in-person early voting, which began last Saturday as Trump himself voted in Palm Beach County downstate, and the GOP will likely need a strong showing on Tuesday to overcome Democratic leads.
Because of concerns about submission deadlines, Postal Service backlogs and the potential for drawn-out legal challenges, Democrats are pressing their backers who have yet to return a ballot to head to the polls in person. Trump, meanwhile, is banking on enthusiasm among his Election Day supporters to overcome indicated Democratic strength in some early returns.