Pembroke Pines (United States) (AFP) -
Joe Biden slammed President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic as he visited the battleground state of Florida on Tuesday to court elderly American voters, who went for the Republican in 2016 but appear to be swinging to the Democrat this time around.
'The only senior that Donald Trump cares about is the senior Donald Trump,' the 77-year-old Biden told a small gathering at a retirement community center in Pembroke Pines, north of Miami.
'He's never been focused on you,' Biden said. 'This president cares more about the stock market than he does about the well-being of seniors.'
'His handling of this pandemic has been erratic, just like his presidency has been,' he said.
Biden recalled that Trump had once remarked that the virus -- which has left over 215,000 people dead in the US, many of them elderly -- 'infects virtually nobody.'
'You are expendable, you are forgettable, you are virtually nobody. That's how he sees this,' said Biden, who wore a face mask throughout his remarks.
The former vice president's visit to Florida came a day after Trump held a campaign rally in the Sunshine State, his first since being hospitalized for Covid-19.
Unlike Biden's small, socially distanced gatherings, thousands of supporters packed an airport tarmac for the president's return to the campaign trail.
Trump, 74, was to host a rally Tuesday night in Pennsylvania followed by visits this week to Iowa, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia as part of a frenzied push to make up ground on Biden, who is leading by double digits in the national polls.
Iowa and Georgia were two states which Trump won handily in 2016 but polls show tight races in both three weeks ahead of the November 3 election.
Florida and its 29 votes in the Electoral College went to Trump in 2016, helping propel his upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Americans over the age of 65 favored Trump over Clinton by a margin of 53 percent to 45 percent, according to the Pew Research Center and exit polls.
But the latest polls show a dramatic shift away from Trump among seniors this time around, driven in large part by his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic which has taken a disproportionate toll among the elderly.
A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had Biden leading Trump among seniors by 27 points -- 62 percent to 35 percent -- while a CNN/SSRS poll had him up by 21 points among Americans 65 and older -- 60 percent to 39 percent.
- 'Lower the heat' -
A poll of likely Florida voters released on Tuesday by Florida Atlantic University (FAU) gave Biden a 51 percent to 47 percent lead in the state.
'Joe Biden continues to be competing better for senior voters than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, and that could be the difference in Florida,' said Kevin Wagner, a political science professor at FAU.
Forty-four percent of those polled said Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis was good or excellent while 50 percent said it was poor or terrible.
Trump, who called seniors his 'favorite people in the world' after his release from hospital and promised them 'the same care I got,' brushed aside the polls at his Monday night rally.
'We are going to win this state, we are going to win four more years in the White House!' he said.
Trump also continued to try to depict Biden as being too old and unfit for office, pointing to a moment on Monday when he appeared unable to remember the name of Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah, and mistakenly said he was running for the Senate.
''If I did any of this, it would be disqualifying. With him, he's just Sleepy Joe!' Trump said.
Romney, meanwhile, issued an appeal to both campaigns and the country at large to 'lower the heat,' saying 'anger leads to a very bad place.'
Romney, the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump during his impeachment trial earlier this year, said he was 'troubled by our politics.'
'It has moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any free nation -- let alone the birthplace of modern democracy,' he said in a statement.
Romney condemned Trump for calling Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris a 'monster' and for urging the 'Justice Department to put the prior president in jail.'
'Democrats launch blistering attacks of their own -- though their presidential nominee refuses to stoop as low as others,' he said.
'The world is watching America with abject horror,' Romney added. 'It's time to lower the heat. Leaders must tone it down.'
Texas, meanwhile, became the latest state to start early voting, which has been taking place at a 'record pace' so far in the states that allow it, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who tracks early voting.
According to McDonald's US Elections Project, voters have cast 11.86 million ballots so far in the states that report early voting.