(Reuters) – Former President Barack Obama will make his first appearance on the campaign trail on Wednesday for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who is locked in a tight race with President Donald Trump in crucial states 13 days before the U.S. general election.
Obama, who served eight years in office with Biden as his vice president, will urge supporters to vote early for Biden and other Democratic candidates at an outdoor drive-in rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s biggest city, an aide to the former president said.
Americans have voted early at a record pace this year, as they look for ways to reduce exposure to the coronavirus, with nearly 40 million ballots cast ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3.
Trump will head to North Carolina, another battleground state where opinion polls show a tight race, for a rally on Wednesday evening.
The rare public appearance by Obama, still one of the Democratic Party’s biggest stars nearly four years after leaving the White House and a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, comes at a critical time.
Biden and Trump are scheduled to meet in their second and final debate on Thursday night, giving the Republican an opportunity to change the trajectory of a race that Biden is leading in national polls.
Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, has warned staff and supporters she sees a far closer race in the 17 states the campaign considers battlegrounds than is suggested by the national polls showing a consistent lead for Biden.
“As President Obama has said, this is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and he looks forward to hitting the trail in person, socially distanced, since we’re just two weeks out from the most important election of our lifetimes,” the Obama aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Biden regards his birthplace of Pennsylvania, which Democrats narrowly lost to Trump in 2016, as a bellwether he must win, and has visited the state more than any other during the campaign.
Trump has gained ground on Biden in Pennsylvania, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, which showed the challenger leading by 49% to 45%, slightly narrower than a week earlier.
“If we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing,” Trump said on Tuesday night at a rally in Erie, in the state’s northwestern corner, where he told supporters Biden’s policies would decimate their energy and manufacturing jobs.
Trump’s campaign coffers have plunged as he falls behind Biden in the money race, dipping to about $63 million in the bank at the end of September after spending about $139 million during the month, a disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday night showed.
At the end of September, Biden’s campaign had about $177 million in cash. Biden’s campaign took in $281 million during the month, more than three times as much as the $81 million Trump’s campaign raised, the disclosures show.
A month earlier, the Trump campaign reported having $121 million in cash. Biden’s campaign has yet to report its cash holdings at the close of September, but it said this month that together with the Democratic Party, it had $432 million in the bank.
Just under 40 million people already have cast ballots, according to the University of Florida’s U.S. Elections Project, nearly 30% of the total 2016 vote.
Opinion polls and voting returns indicate that many of these early voters typically don’t participate in elections but are coming off the sidelines this year to back Biden – or vote out Trump.
Roughly 7.3 million infrequent and first-time voters had cast their ballots as of Tuesday, according to TargetSmart, a Democratic analytics firm. That’s more than two and a half times the number of ballots cast at the same point four years ago, the data show, as states have expanded absentee and early in-person voting options due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
TargetSmart estimates that this group leans Democratic by 16 percentage points.
Obama’s appearance on the campaign trail this week fills a gap left by Biden, who has stayed at home in Delaware since Monday for meetings and preparation ahead of the debate with Trump in Nashville, Tennessee.
Trump has resumed a crowded schedule of campaign rallies since recovering from his recent bout with COVID-19, and will appear on Wednesday night at an airport rally in Gastonia, North Carolina.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris also will be in North Carolina for voter mobilization events in Asheville and Charlotte.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed Biden and Trump about even in that state, with Biden at 49% and Trump at 46%, within the poll’s credibility interval.