DES MOINES – Facing tightening polls with less than three weeks before Election Day, President Donald Trump sought to appeal to rural voters at a campaign rally in Iowa, a state he won handily just four years ago.
“You’re a big state to me,” Trump told thousands of mostly maskless supporters at Des Moines International Airport in a nearly 90-minute speech. “You have tremendous influence and tremendous power and you’ve never let me down.”
The president appeared at his third rally in as many days more than a week after he was hospitalized for COVID-19. Trump is looking to close the gap with Biden, who has consistently maintained an edge over the president in national polls and in some key battleground states.
The pair remain locked in a dead heat in Iowa but the former vice president leads Trump by 6 points in Michigan and Nevada, according to a CBS/YouGov poll taken between Oct. 6-9.
“If I don’t get Iowa I won’t believe that one,” Trump said. “I may never have to come back here again if I don’t get Iowa.”
Trump disputed polls showing him tied or behind Biden, insisting that his campaign has “more enthusiasm now than we ever did four years ago.”
After noting the windy weather, Trump put on his signature “Make America Great Again” red hat, declaring: “If you can wear the hat then I can wear the hat.”
“Should I take off the tie or what?” he asked before removing his tie and tossing it into the audience.
Trump wasted no time in attacking Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China.
“Vice President Biden, you owe the people of America an apology because it turns out, you are a corrupt politician,” Trump said. “Let’s face it, Joe is shot.”
The president held rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania on Monday and Tuesday and is set to hold more in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin later this week.
His visit comes as Iowa reported a new high for coronavirus-related hospitalizations for the second straight day. On Wednesday, the state was reporting 473 hospitalizations, up from 463 on Tuesday.
Des Moines and Polk County were classified as a “yellow zone” for transmission of the virus, according to the latest report from the White House task force. Federal health officials suggest limiting gatherings to 25 or fewer people in “yellow zone” areas.
Earlier this week the national agricultural advocacy group Rural America 2020 displayed a digital billboard outside of the Des Moines International Airport, warning that the rally would be a “superspreader event” along with an arrow pointed toward the airport.
Trump’s trip comes as First Lady Melania Trump, who also contracted the coronavirus, revealed in an update on her health that their son Barron had tested positive for COVID-19. The 14-year-old exhibited no symptoms and has since tested negative, according to the first lady. She said she has since also tested negative.
The president told the crowd in Iowa that his son, who recovered from the virus “within like two seconds,” is evidence that the U.S. needs to get “the kids back to school.”
“He had it for such a short period of time I don’t even think he knew he had it, because they’re young and their immune systems are strong and they fight it off,” he said of his son.
Trump revealed on Oct. 2 that he tested positive for the coronavirus, hours after it was reported that one of his top aides came down with the virus. The president was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for three days before he returned to the White House, where he continued to undergo treatment. His doctor said Monday that he is no longer a threat to transmit the virus to others.
Trump also announced that he plans to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Iowa wrestling icon Dan Gable, who appeared on stage with the president.
“This guy is already a one-time champion,” Gable said of Trump. “Because he’s open for learning and he’s already very competent that he’s going to be the multi-champion president of the United States of America.”
Contributing: Tony Leys and Cody Goodwin, Des Moines Register