President Donald Trump has gone to Nevada for the weekend, looking to expand his path to victory while unleashing a torrent of unsubstantiated claims that Democrats were trying to steal the election.
Mr Trump defied local authorities by holding a Saturday night rally in tiny Minden after his initial plan to hold one in Reno was stopped out of concern it would have violated coronavirus health guidelines.
Unleashing 90-plus minutes of grievances and attacks, Mr Trump claimed the state’s Democratic governor tried to block him and repeated his false claim that mail-in ballots would taint the election result.
“This is the guy we are entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots, and we’re supposed to win these states.
“Who the hell is going to trust him?” Mr Trump said of Governor Steve Sisolak.
“The only way the Democrats can win the election is if they rig it.”
Just landed, see you soon Minden, Nevada. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! pic.twitter.com/cUQxBeK3hQ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2020
As part of his ongoing crusade against mail-in voting, lawyers for the president’s reelection campaign are urging a federal judge in Las Vegas to block a state law and prevent mail-in ballots from going to all active Nevada voters less than eight weeks before the election.
Addressing a mostly mask-less crowd tightly packed together, Mr Trump spoke in front of mountains draped in haze, the scent of smoke in the air from wildfires raging a state away in California.
The president expressed his condolences to the victims but, declaring that “I don’t have to be nice anymore”, focused on tearing into his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Mr Trump claimed that the Democrat’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, would be president “in about a month” if Mr Biden won, asserting that the former vice president would be but a figurehead and that Ms Harris would hold power.
He claimed that the media would treat Mr Biden “like Winston Churchill” if he was able to merely stand on the debate stage in three weeks.
And embarking on a swing that would also include stops in Las Vegas and Phoenix, Mr Trump mocked Mr Biden’s slower travel schedule.
“You know where he is now? He is in his damn basement again!”
And, for good measure, Mr Trump invoked his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, leading the crowd to launch into its traditional “Lock Her Up!” chant.
The president claimed he usually tried to stop the chant but on Saturday declared, “I don’t care if you say it anymore” and, breaking yet another norm of the office, suggested that Mrs Clinton “should be in jail.”
Mr Trump also offered a fierce defence of his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 190,000 Americans and still claims nearly 1,000 lives a day.
And he blamed Democratic governors across the nation, including Mr Sisolak, for deliberately slowing the pace of reopening their states to hurt his election chances.
State Republicans claimed Mr Sisolak tried to stop the rally, but the decision to cancel the Reno event was made by airport officials.
Mr Sisolak has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines.
Privately, the Trump campaign welcomed the fight, believing it highlighted a reelection theme: Mr Trump’s insistence that the nation has turned the corner on the pandemic, while Democrats, including Mr Biden and governors, are hurting the nation’s economy and psyche with stringent restrictions.
It is the kind of political fight that Trump’s team relishes and underscores the growing importance of Nevada in Mr Trump’s quest for 270 electoral votes as the race looks tight in a number of pivotal states.
Several thousand people covered the tarmac in Minden, including Tom Lenz, 64, of Sparks, Nevada, who said he did not vote for Mr Trump last time.
“But I will this time. I think he knows what he’s doing,” said Mr Lenz.
“He’s pro-faith, pro-life, he’s made more peace in the world. Biden can’t even talk.”
Mr Trump narrowly lost Nevada in 2016 to Mrs Clinton, and the state has trended further toward the Democrats in the past decade.
But Mr Trump’s campaign has invested heavily in the state, relying on its ground game to turn out voters.
Democrats, by contrast, have largely relied on virtual campaign efforts during the pandemic, save for the casino workers’ Culinary Union, which has sent workers door to door.