WASHINGTON—President Trump returned to a schedule packed with campaign rallies and hit out at rivals in his final push to close a polling gap with Democrat Joe Biden in battleground states.
During a campaign swing through the Midwest on Saturday, Mr. Trump criticized Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and she responded that his rhetoric is putting her in danger. Earlier that day, Mr. Trump hit back at Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska after the Republican lawmaker criticized the president’s record and ethics in a call with thousands of constituents last week.
Mr. Trump is planning to hold campaign rallies nearly every day as the election approaches, a brisk return to the campaign trail after he tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month. He is speaking at rallies in Nevada on Sunday, Arizona on Monday, Pennsylvania on Tuesday and North Carolina on Wednesday.
His altercations with Ms. Whitmer and Mr. Sasse Saturday showed him sticking in this final stretch to the combative approach that marked his 2016 campaign and the current one.
The president’s Democratic opponent, former Vice President Biden, is following a strategy of less intense campaigning. Democrats say big rallies could lead to increased spread of Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Mr. Biden is expected to hold two events Sunday after attending church in Delaware. He will participate in a voter-mobilization event in Durham, N.C., and a virtual roundtable discussion with Black faith leaders.
Both candidates are preparing for their second and final head-to-head debate later this week. Stephen Miller, an adviser of Mr. Trump’s, said on “Fox News Sunday” he expected Mr. Trump to avoid interrupting Mr. Biden in the coming debate as often as he did in the last one, partly in the hope that Mr. Biden will stumble on his own without being challenged.
After canceling her campaign events last week when a top aide and a flight-crew member tested positive for Covid-19, Sen. Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, will return to the campaign trail on Monday in Florida. She will travel to Orlando and Jacksonville for the first day of the state’s in-person early voting.
Former President Barack Obama is doing his first in-person event of the fall on Wednesday in Philadelphia, where he will campaign for Mr. Biden. Mr. Obama is expected to do events in early-voting states before the election to mobilize Black, Latino and young voters.
Mr. Biden is leading the president in most national polls, sometimes by double digits. The polls suggest the former vice president has made gains with voters who supported Mr. Trump in 2016, including seniors and white women.
But Mr. Biden’s campaign has sought to tamp down speculation that he will easily win the election. In a Saturday memo obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Biden campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon cautioned, “[T]he reality is that this race is far closer than some of the punditry we’re seeing on Twitter and on TV would suggest.”
In the president’s lengthy rallies, which often run longer than 90 minutes, Mr. Trump has made the case that Mr. Biden will impose liberal policies that undermine the economy and threaten public safety.
At a rally in Muskegon, Mich., on Saturday, the president criticized pandemic-related restrictions Ms. Whitmer has put in place in the state. “You’ve got to get your governor to open up your state, OK, and get your schools open,” he said. The crowd then began chanting “lock her up” in reference to the governor. Mr. Trump laughed and responded, “Lock ’em all up.”
The president’s remarks came after several men were arrested and charged with plotting to kidnap Ms. Whitmer.
“This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop,” Ms. Whitmer wrote on Twitter Saturday night.
The governor’s deputy digital director wrote on Twitter that violent rhetoric directed toward Ms. Whitmer increases when the president criticizes her at his rallies.
Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump said on Sunday during an interview with “State of the Union” on CNN, “He wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all. He was having fun at a Trump rally.”
Mr. Trump has criticized state leaders for taking too long to roll back coronavirus-related restrictions. The debate about lockdowns is intensifying as cases increase in some states. Daily new coronavirus infections in the U.S. increased to their highest level since late July on Friday. More than 219,000 people have died in the U.S. as a result of the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“President Trump is knowingly downplaying the severity of the virus. At virtually every turn, he has panicked and tried to wish it away, rather than doing the hard work to get it under control,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement after the president’s Saturday rallies.
During the Michigan rally, the president also continued his public criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), alleging that she “doesn’t love our country too much” and wants to bring “poorly vetted migrants from jihadist regions” into the country. Ms. Omar, a naturalized American citizen who fled Somalia with her family, has called Mr. Trump racist and accused him of spreading hateful rhetoric about refugees.
On Twitter over the weekend, the president also criticized Mr. Sasse, calling him a “liability to the Republican Party, and an embarrassment to the Great State of Nebraska.” He also suggested that Republicans should find a new Republican candidate for the state’s Senate seat. Mr. Sasse is expected to win re-election in the state.
In audio of a call with constituents that was made public last week, Mr. Sasse said the president mishandled the coronavirus response and “treated the presidency like a business opportunity.” He said that Mr. Trump mistreats women, has “flirted with white supremacists” and warned that Mr. Trump’s leadership of the party could mean deep losses for Republicans in November.
—Tarini Parti and Sabrina Siddiqui contributed to this article.
Write to Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com
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