Fort Myers (United States) (AFP) -
US President Donald Trump was campaigning Friday in Florida and Georgia -- two states he won four years ago, but which now threaten to swing to Democratic challenger Joe Biden -- in a visible sign of how far he has to catch up with only 18 days left until the election.
In Fort Myers, Florida -- a state that in many scenarios Trump simply has to win if he is going to rack up the necessary electoral votes for a second term -- the president wooed seniors.
The group was part of his winning coalition in 2016 that polls show is now tilting heavily to Biden. And in a state synonymous with large retirement communities, Florida's elderly hold particular clout.
'We love our senior citizens,' Trump said in his pitch. 'You devoted your life to this country and I am devoting my life to you.'
But he is struggling after a year in which his often dismissive attitude to the Covid-19 pandemic led many Americans to view him as uncaring or at least unable to lead in a crisis.
In front of a friendly audience, Trump stuck to his message that strict coronavirus lockdowns, aimed at stifling viral spread, are worse than the disease itself. He said upcoming vaccines and current medicines meant the risks were now sharply reduced.
'Well, I'm here, I tell you,' he said, recalling his own bout with Covid-19 and successful recovery over the last two weeks.
The line drew laughter, applause and chants of 'four more years.'
Trump was to hold rallies later Friday in Ocala, Florida and in Macon, Georgia -- a state where he beat Hillary Clinton by about five percentage points in 2016, but now is having to spend time and money defending.
- Harsh numbers -
Trump calls polls showing him headed for defeat 'fake' but the surveys are proving remarkably consistent -- and pessimistic for the Republican.
A RealClearPolitics average of recent Georgia polls gives Biden a 1.2 point lead in the state and a Quinnipiac University poll even had the Democrat up by seven points.
Georgia is seen as one of the reliably Republican southern states that is crucial to Trump's path to victory on November 3 but it has been trending Democratic in recent years.
'Warning lights are blinking red (for Trump) and alarms are going off in the Peach Tree State,' Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said.
On Wednesday, Trump held a campaign rally in Iowa, a Midwestern state which he won easily -- by 9.4 points -- in 2016 but which now appears to be up for grabs.
A RealClearPolitics average of recent Iowa polls gives Biden a 1.2 point lead over Trump in the Hawkeye State -- identical to his lead in Georgia.
Polls also show Biden consolidating predicted wins in Florida and Pennsylvania, another crucial state in the electoral college math.
- Biden, Obama on attack -
While Trump visits Florida and Georgia, Biden will spend the day in Michigan, a state Trump won narrowly in 2016 but where polls also have him trailing this time around.
Biden was to deliver remarks on health care and address a meeting of Black faith leaders.
He'll be getting help from Democratic superstar Barack Obama on Wednesday next week when the former president, who had Biden as his vice president, campaigns in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
As the polling clouds darken for Trump, prominent members of his own Republican party -- Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas -- are sounding the alarm.
Sasse, in a telephone call with constituents this week obtained by The Washington Examiner, said a defeat for Trump looks 'likely' and Republicans may also lose the Senate.
'I'm now looking at the possibility of a Republican bloodbath in the Senate,' Sasse said.
Sasse had harsh words for Trump, saying he is 'TV-obsessed,' 'narcissistic' and allowed his family to treat 'the presidency like a business opportunity.'
Sasse also criticized Trump's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic which has left more than 217,000 people dead in the United States, saying he treated it like a 'PR crisis.'
Trump and Biden are to hold a final debate next Thursday.
They had been scheduled to hold one this Thursday but Trump backed out after it was changed to a virtual debate following his Covid-19 diagnosis. They held rival town hall events instead.