By Steve Holland
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) - President Donald Trump campaigned in the battleground states of North Carolina and Florida on Thursday, saying the country's economic prosperity was riding on the outcome of his Nov. 3 showdown with Democrat Joe Biden.
"If you want to save America, you must get out and vote," he told thousands of cheering supporters, most not wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic, at the outdoor airport rally in front of Air Force One in Jacksonville, Florida.
Trump criticized Biden as too far left for Americans and warned that the Democrat's efforts to battle the coronavirus would endanger the economy.
Trump has been criticized for failing to lay out a national strategy to combat the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States, the most deaths of any country from the virus.
He has pushed for rapid deployment of a vaccine once one is ready, and for a broad reopening of the economy after a lockdown in the spring that resulted in heavy job losses.
"Biden's plan will crush Florida," Trump said. "My plan will crush the virus."
Earlier, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trump looked to shore up his healthcare credentials by signing two executive orders that lawyers said would carry little weight, including one aiming to ensure Americans with pre-existing conditions retain coverage - even as his own administration seeks to end the Affordable Care Act that protects the same right.
Trump lags behind Biden in national opinion polls on the question of who would better handle healthcare, and the protections for people with pre-existing conditions are one of the most popular measures in the law, known as Obamacare.
In June, the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the law, which added millions to the healthcare safety net.
Florida and North Carolina are vital to Trump's prospects of re-election to a second term, and new Reuters/Ipsos polls show the races in the two states to be a dead heat.
Trump made no mention at either campaign stop of the furor in Washington over his refusal on Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and some other Republicans distanced themselves from the president's remarks.
Biden took the day off the campaign trail on Thursday to prepare for next week's first presidential debate. Trump derided him for "low energy."
Florida, which Trump won by just over a percentage point in 2016, has become a heavy focus of both campaigns, and Biden visited last week to try to shore up support among Hispanic voters.
Trump countered by announcing $13 billion in disaster aid for Puerto Rico, and made a play on Wednesday for the state's Republican-leaning conservative Cuban-American voters by slapping new restrictions on trade with Cuba, banning U.S. citizens from bringing home rum or cigars from the Communist-run island and from staying at Cuban government-owned hotels.
Some Florida Republicans have pushed for Trump to choose Barbara Lagoa, a Cuban-American judge on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as his new Supreme Court nominee, believing the move would bolster his prospects in the state.
Trump drew a huge roar and chants of "Fill the seat" when he said he would announce his new Supreme Court nominee on Saturday to succeed liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death last week touched off what is expected to be a furious partisan confirmation battle in the U.S. Senate.
Trump met with the leading candidate, Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, earlier this week at the White House.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)