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The Latest: Trump meets troops involved in al-Baghdadi raid

·10 min read

WASHINGTON — The Latest on the presidential campaign (all times local):

9:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump quietly met with U.S. Special Forces troops involved in last year’s raid to kill Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Trump flew into Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Thursday for what the White House described as “troop engagement.” It was conducted outside the view of the press corps travelling with him.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters travelling with Trump on Air Force One after the visit that Trump presented the troops with a Presidential Unit Citation and visited a Special Forces memorial on the sprawling military base.

The visit came a little more than a year after the U.S. launched the operation to kill al-Baghdadi as he hid out in northeast Syria. The president has pointed to the raid as one of the most important national security achievements of his presidency.

Trump was also scheduled to hold a rally in nearby Fayetteville but postponed it as the area was forecast to be hit by dangerous wind gusts as Tropical Storm Zeta moves in.

___

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE:

President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden are chasing votes in Florida, a state all but essential to the Republican’s pathway to another term, as both nominees turn their focus to encouraging voters to turn out in person on Election Day.

Read more:

— Advocates are mobilizing to get out the vote in myriad ways

— Pelosi agenda envisions big health care, infrastructure push aligned with Biden platform.

— Trump paints an apocalyptic portrait of life under a Biden presidency

— Trump Cabinet members fan out to states, blending politics and policy.

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:

8:45 p.m.

President Donald Trump has met with rap star Lil Wayne at his resort in Doral, Florida.

The artist posted a tweet on Thursday praising the president for his efforts at “criminal justice reform” and other efforts to bolster the African American community.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says White House officials have been speaking to Lil Wayne’s team for some time, and it culminated with Thursday’s meeting when the president campaigned in Florida.

She says, “I think you’re seeing a lot of supporters come off the sidelines and want to joint president in a second term.”

While Joe Biden is expected to win the vast majority of Black voters in next week’s election, Trump has courted them and hopes to shave into Democrats’ historic advantage in the community.

The meeting with Lil Wayne comes after the White House publicized Trump holding sit-downs with other prominent black artists 50 Cent and Ice Cube.

___

8:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s campaign will hold a Friday rally in Rochester, Minnesota, after all.

The location of the Minnesota rally has been in flux for the last couple of days.

The Trump campaign announced Wednesday that the president would lead a rally at the city-owned Rochester airport Friday evening. But on Thursday, the campaign moved it to a private company, McNeilus Steel, in Dodge Center, to avoid a 250-person limit under the state’s coronavirus safety guidelines.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton told The Associated Press on Thursday night that she just got a text from the city attorney confirming that the campaign had agreed to scale back the airport rally to an invitation-only event with no more than 250 people.

The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, meanwhile, announced Thursday that the former vice-president will travel to St. Paul on Friday, setting up dueling visits that highlight Minnesota’s status as a battleground state.

___

7:50 p.m.

A little rain didn’t stop Joe Biden on Thursday night in Tampa, Florida. But a lot of rain did.

The Democratic presidential nominee was forced to wrap his speech up early at a drive-in rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds after a brief shower turned into a torrential downpour.

Biden picked up his binder and dashed off the stage as the rain came down, scattering the crowd of people who had gathered near the stage to hear him speak. The campaign said 285 cars were there.

Biden focused his remarks on President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and his efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act. He also went after the president for holding an earlier rally in Tampa without following social distancing guidelines to avoid the spread of the virus.

Biden said Trump “just had a superspreader event here again,” but added, “he’s spreading more than just the virus — he’s spreading division and discord.”

___

6:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump skipped a Fayetteville rally in North Carolina because of Tropical Storm Zeta, but he still went to the state to stop by a nearby U.S. Army installation at Fort Bragg for what the White House described as a “troop engagement.”

The president was joined Thursday evening by his wife, Melania Trump. The White House press corps was kept away from the event with troops and could not view what was going on.

Earlier Thursday, Trump held a rally in Tampa, Florida. He had a campaign rally scheduled for Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Thursday evening but cancelled it because of wind gusts forecasted at 50 mph. He plans to go to Fayetteville on Monday instead.

The president and first lady are scheduled to return to Washington on Thursday evening.

___

5:45 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s campaign has moved a Friday rally from Rochester, Minnesota, to the southern town of Dodge Center to avoid a 250-person limit under the state’s coronavirus safety guidelines.

But Rochester’s mayor said that the situation was still in flux Thursday afternoon and that it was possible that the president’s schedule could change yet again.

The Trump campaign announced Wednesday that the president would lead a rally at the city-owned Rochester airport Friday evening. But on Thursday, the campaign moved it to a private company, McNeilus Steel, in Dodge Center, about 25 miles west of Rochester, without making an official announcement.

The Trump campaign and the company didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. The Minnesota Department of Health has linked 28 coronavirus cases to other recent Trump campaign events in the state.

Glenn Sylvester, the Dodge Center steel company’s chief operating officer, told Minnesota Public Radio that he expected several thousand people to attend. In an email to McNeilus staff, Sylvester wrote that 25,000 people were expected to attend and he encouraged employees to participate.

___

4:30 p.m.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says that the economy is “really hitting on all cylinders” and that he expects the momentum to carry over to next year.

Kudlow spoke to reporters Thursday in his “personal capacity” to promote the president’s economic policies on a campaign call. President Donald Trump’s campaign is trying to place a focus on the improving economy in the closing days of the presidential election.

He says he believes the fourth quarter will be “very strong.”

Despite strong growth numbers released Thursday, government estimates showed that the economy has regained only about two-thirds of the output lost early this year when the eruption of the virus closed businesses and threw tens of millions out of work.

Noting that COVID-19 cases are surging in Europe, Kudlow says he feels sorry for them, but doesn’t think shutting down businesses will help.

Kudlow says, “Here, we are not going to shut down.”

___

3:40 p.m.

Democrat Joe Biden is making a direct pitch to Florida’s Latino voters by attacking President Donald Trump’s handling of Cuba and Venezuela.

Speaking at a drive-in rally in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Biden said Trump is “the worst possible standard-bearer for democracy” in places like Cuba and Venezuela.

The president, Biden said, “can’t advance democracy and human rights” in Cuba or Venezuela “when he has embraced so many autocrats around the world.” And he said that the Trump administration’s decision to reimpose trade and travel sanctions on Cuba “isn’t working,” declaring that “Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago.”

Florida’s sizable and diverse Latino population could be key to Biden’s chances in Florida, a state that remains a must-win for Trump. While the state’s Cuban population has traditionally trended Republican, Democrats believe they have an opening with Florida’s Cubans because of Trump’s move to freeze relations with the nation and the changing demographics of the population.

Biden set the stakes for voters at the rally, telling them, “If Florida goes blue, it’s over!”

___

3:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign says it’s postponing a Thursday night rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for a few days as Tropical Storm Zeta bears down on the Northeast.

The president’s campaign said in a statement that the outdoor rally has been postponed until Monday because of a wind advisory that has gusts reaching 50 mph.

Several North Carolina counties were under tropical storm watch Thursday afternoon. North Carolina is a battleground state that Trump won in 2016 but that Democrat Joe Biden is pushing for in 2020.

Trump held a rally on Thursday in Tampa, Florida.

___

2:45 p.m.

First lady Melania Trump is making her first joint campaign appearance of the year with her husband.

Mrs. Trump warmed up the large crowd outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for President Donald Trump.

She used her few minutes in the spotlight to echo her husband’s push to downplay the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 228,000 Americans. She predicted that that the nation will soon “overcome this pandemic and continue building the brightest future for generations to come.”

Mrs. Trump did a solo campaign event earlier this week in Pennsylvania. She had planned to appear with her husband during a visit to Pennsylvania last week, but was a last-minute scratch.

The first lady in her speech also called the U.S. “a country of hope” and said her husband has proven himself “a leader who shows us that every single day”

___

1:40 p.m.

Joe Biden is campaigning in Florida, aiming to deny President Donald Trump a win in a state that is pivotal to his reelection hopes.

The Democratic presidential candidate will appear at two drive-in rallies Thursday, in Broward County and Tampa. Both areas are key to his chances — Broward is the bluest county in the state, home to a sizable population of Black voters, and Tampa is the largest city in the traditional bellwether Florida county of Hillsborough. Underscoring the stakes for the Republican, Trump himself will campaign in Tampa Thursday as well.

Florida is a perennially close state -- it went for Trump by a little more than a percentage point in 2016, and this year, Democrats are making an aggressive play to win back the state’s 29 electoral votes.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is spending $100 million to try to tip the scales for Democrats, and Floridians have seen a parade of Democratic surrogates in recent weeks. Former President Barack Obama campaigned in Miami on Tuesday, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited Tampa Wednesday, and Sen. Kamala Harris scheduled to return to the state on Saturday.

The Associated Press