Unsettled by election drama, markets look on the bright side

By Sujata Rao and Tommy Wilkes

LONDON (Reuters) – Those who banked on a big U.S. government spending splurge may be dismayed but two days on from U.S. Election Day, investors are looking on the bright side – less regulatory tightening than feared and a central bank still in full money-printing mode.

Global stocks extended their surge on Thursday as Democratic challenger Joe Biden edged closer to snatching the presidency from Donald Trump, and there is little sign of panic about an election outcome that may end up in the courts.

Disappointment over stimulus appears to have been replaced by relief that without a Biden clean sweep of Congress and the White House, gridlock between a Biden administration and a potentially Republican Senate would scupper any plans to tighten the screws on tech and pharma giants.

Bets on those sectors gathered momentum, even as shares in renewables – where Biden has pledged large investment – rallied on an assumption that climate-friendly assets will emerge winners no matter who the next president is.

“Less regulation…is a huge positive and offsets the probability of reduced stimulus,” said Justin Onuekwusi, portfolio manager at Legal & General Investment Management.

“You go back into the medium-term scenario of reflation as well as the lower-for-longer scenario,” he said, referring to expectations of rock-bottom borrowing costs alongside a smaller fiscal spending package.

The market gyrations of the past 36 hours represent some position unwinding, given the tighter-than-expected race, investors said, but with the U.S. and global backdrop one of abundant liquidity and rock-bottom bond yields, flows into equities and company debt are likely to continue.

That is especially so for the mega-tech firms – shares in Apple, Amazon and Alphabet extended Wednesday’s rally.

For Jonathan Bell, chief investment officer at Stanhope Capital, the outcome was the best of both worlds.

“Biden being elected increases the chances of a fiscal stimulus deal, but (with a Republican Senate) it also reduces the ability for him to push through significant taxes rise or policies that might constrain the likes of Amazon and Apple,” Bell said.

“Tech seems to be thinking that the disruptors, most of which are anti-trust regulations will not be significant and that the Senate will be able to prevent it.”

Similarly, Didier Saint-Georges, managing director at asset manager Carmignac in Paris, noted the positives for pharma shares.

The election has done little to alter the broadly positive investment backdrop, Saint-Georges said, adding: “Moving from Trump to Biden looks like a revolution but in market terms it may not be that significant.”

FED TO THE RESCUE?

Cue central banks.

Their money-printing largesse has floored bond yields and volatility, sending investment flooding into stocks. The S&P 500 index has gained more than 60% since 2016. This week it is already up 7%.

The bet now is that any fiscal stimulus shortfall may force the Federal Reserve and peers to pick up the slack. The Bank of England on Thursday announced a bigger-than-expected expansion of its bond-buying scheme.

U.S. Treasury yields slid further as “reflation” trades were unwound, with 10 and 30-year yields down more than 15 basis points each in the past two sessions.

The Fed releases its latest policy statement on Thursday. Amid the election uncertainty it is expected to stick closely to its last statement and repeat its pledge to do whatever it can to help the economy.

Investors are hoping policymakers might provide some stronger guidance of future easing.

“I am not sure the Fed will just abandon (calls for fiscal stimulus) and say ‘don’t worry we will do the heavy lifting,’ Carmignac’s Saint-George said.

“But what can’t be done on fiscal will have to be done on the monetary front.”

(Additional reporting by Susan Mathew in Bangalore, David Randall and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Analysis: Trump or Biden, new U.S. president faces troubled economy

By Ann Saphir and Jonnelle Marte

(Reuters) – It’s still not clear yet if the next U.S. president will be incumbent Donald Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden, but whoever triumphs will face monumental challenges on the economic front.

The recession has been ugly. It has wiped away more than a year of economic output and more than five years of jobs growth.

The workforce is now smaller than it was a year before Trump first took office.

One bright spot – consumer spending – is stronger than it was right after the pandemic exploded in March, but still only back to where it was last June.

Housing prices are on the rise, which is a great thing for U.S. homeowners but at the same time is worsening the affordability crisis for aspiring home buyers.

Manufacturing activity – a key concern in the Midwestern battleground states – has rebounded, but manufacturing employment is in worse shape than employment overall.

And the coronavirus is still surging across most of the United States. Nearly 6,000 people died last week, and there’s growing concern that the U.S. might need to reinstate lockdowns that happened across Europe in order to get it under control.

But despite signs the economy has begun to slow again amid another viral onslaught, “it is almost certain that the economy will get better over the course of 2021,” says Jason Furman, a key economic advisor to Barack Obama, the last U.S. president elected during a time of economic turmoil.

Late 2021 is still a long ways away, not just in political terms but for those living paycheck to paycheck, or out of work.

Federal Reserve policymaker projections put unemployment at 5.5% by the end of next year – worse than the 4.7% when Trump was first elected, but an improvement over the current 7.9%.

Beyond jobs lost and economic output curtailed, either Trump or Biden will face a list of long-term headwinds including deepening inequality, rising federal debt and tattered international trade relations.

In the run-up to the election, Trump consistently polled better than Biden on his ability to create jobs and manage the economy, if not the virus.

But even with the election outcome uncertain, and likely to remain so for some time amid legal challenges, stock market investors like what they see.

That’s partly because Republicans look likely to keep their hold on the Senate, leaving policy priorities relatively unchanged if it’s Trump emerging the winner, or as preventive force to a president Biden from trying to push through any big policy changes should he come out on top in the ballot box.

It’s also because Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell signaled Wednesday he was open to a new coronavirus aid bill in the “lame duck” session before the elected members of Senate and U.S. House of Representatives are sworn in.

For the still-weak economy, a lot will depend on the timing, size and shape of a pandemic relief package, which eluded lawmakers and the White House before the election.

A more modest fiscal package could mean “the growth outlook and corporate profits may not be as vigorous as hoped,” said James Knightley, chief international economist for ING.

A Biden presidency with a majority Republican Senate could offer the worst case for the economy in 2021 because Republicans are likely to oppose a substantial stimulus package, said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.

That would be bad news for the millions of low- and middle-income Americans out of work and struggling to find jobs in sectors such as travel and entertainment that are likely to remain moribund until the pandemic is under better control.

A scenario where Trump is re-elected and the Senate stays in Republican control could potentially result in more stimulus because Trump has advocated for more stimulus and could have more sway if he is re-elected, Luzzetti said.

Whatever the election outcome, any aid package should provide additional assistance for the unemployed, help for small businesses and assistance for state and local governments, to keep economic momentum going, Luzzetti said.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir and Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Heather Timmons, Paul Simao and Edward Tobin)

Khamenei says Iran’s U.S. policy not affected by who wins election

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday the U.S. presidential election’s result will not impact Tehran’s policy towards Washington.

“Our policy towards the United States is clearly set and does not change with the movement of individuals. It does not matter to us who comes and goes,” Khamenei said in a speech carried live on state TV.

Khamenei was speaking on the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, which coincided with the birthday of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.

“The students’ attack on this den of spies was quite appropriate and wise,” Khamenei said, referring to radical Islamist students who stormed the embassy, taking hostage 52 staff for an eventual 444 days. There have been no U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations since.

Iran this year cancelled rallies and other events marking the embassy seizure because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus which has killed about 36,000 people in the country, the worst hit in the Middle East.

The Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has pledged to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers if Iran returns to compliance with it.

In 2018 President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, under which Iran international financial sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Iran followed Washington’s rejection by reducing its compliance.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told U.S. network CBS on Monday that he wants the United States to rejoin the accord, but that “re-engagement does not mean renegotiation” because “if we wanted to do that [renegotiate], we would have done it with President (Donald) Trump four years ago.”

Zarif told CBS that “the statements by the Biden camp have been more promising, but we will have to wait and see”.

Trump has said he wants to strike a broader accord that would also address Iran’s missile program and regional activities. Iran has ruled out any negotiations unless Washington first returns to the agreement.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Peter Graff)

Trump or Biden’s big economic challenge: millions of struggling Americans

By Jonnelle Marte

(Reuters) – The winner of the race for the White House will face a generation of low-to-middle income Americans struggling to get back to work because of a health crisis not seen in more than 100 years.

Whether it’s President Donald Trump or Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, the reality is grim: about half of the 22 million who lost their jobs during the pandemic are still out of work.

New hiring is slowing, dimming prospects for the low-wage workers hit hardest by job losses. Infections of the virus that killed more than 225,000 Americans are rising to new records. Hotels, transportation companies and food providers warn that more layoffs are coming, and the government aid that helped many pay the bills is long gone.

Securing a future for a vast, growing underclass “is the most important challenge America faces over the next few years, 10 years, 20 years,” said Gene Ludwig, a former comptroller of the currency under President Bill Clinton and author of “The Vanishing American Dream,” a book about the economic challenges facing lower and middle income Americans.

“We cannot sustain a democratic society that has these kinds of numbers of low and middle income people that aren’t able to have a hope for the American dream and live decently.”

Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration have been trying to negotiate a $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill, but many Senate Republicans object to the cost and question whether more stimulus is needed. A deal may not be reached until early 2021.

SAVINGS DRY UP

That’s going to be too late for some.

Direct cash payments and enhanced unemployment benefits established by the CARES Act, which added $600 a week to state unemployment benefits, lifted more Americans out of poverty in April even as unemployment soared, according to research by the Center on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University.

People receiving the enhanced benefits were able to spend more, build savings and pay off debt, according to an analysis by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

But after the benefits expired at the end of July, poverty is once again on the rise – with the monthly poverty rate reaching 16.7% in September from 15% in February, according to the Columbia study. After a decade of decline, hunger is rising nationwide.

Lisandra Bonilla, 46, saved roughly a third of the enhanced unemployment benefits she received after she was furloughed in late March from her job at an employment agency in Kissimmee, Florida. “I had saved a lot because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said.

It was smart planning: in August her benefits were cut to $275 a week before taxes, the maximum in Florida, down from more than $800.

Bonilla returned to work part-time in late September, but now she is struggling to pay the bills on half her previous pay, and fears her savings will be gone by December.

If she isn’t hired full time soon, she needs to find another job.

“We’re trying to shovel ourselves out of the hole, but at the same time the hole is getting bigger,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Two factors are particularly worrying, she said. More than 420,000 small businesses shuttered between March and mid-summer, which is more than three times the typical pace, she estimates. And permanent layoffs are also on the rise, hitting 3.8 million in September from 1.3 million in February – similar to levels seen before the 2008 election.

THE LONGTERM UNEMPLOYMENT TRAP

Bishop Donald Harper has been on more than 50 job interviews since he was furloughed in March.

Harper, 55, a veteran chef, most recently oversaw five restaurants at an Orlando resort. But with occupancy still low, it’s not clear when he’ll get back to work.

Applications for jobs at super markets or in health care have also been fruitless.

“I can do anything and everything,” said Harper, who also serves as a bishop for a nondenominational church. He is struggling to pay for food and utilities on $275-a-week unemployment, and three months behind on his $1,900 a month rent.

“I don’t want to be homeless,” said Harper, who lives with two children ages 10 and 13. He has reached out to more than 20 groups seeking rental assistance, with no luck.

The United States has 2.4 million and growing “long-term” unemployed, officially defined as those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Getting everyone back to work is crucial, but economists say these job seekers are at greater risk of dropping out of the labor market or taking lower paying jobs.

This week, the U.S. Commerce Department is expected to report that Gross Domestic Product surged in the third quarter, thanks in part to fiscal stimulus that kept U.S. workers afloat, but has mostly expired.

Now, people who are out of work or in low-wage jobs need rental support, direct cash payments and food assistance, as well as federal jobs projects and retraining programs, labor economists say.

If elected, Biden has pledged to raise the federal minimum wage, and roll out trillions of dollars in infrastructure and green energy programs. But he’ll need the votes in Congress to do it.

Trump has signaled support for more federal stimulus, but has offered fewer specifics on jobs.

Until help arrives, workers are struggling.

Rachel Alvarez, 44, a single mother of three in Naples, Florida, starts a new job this week as a server at a restaurant – her first time working since she lost her job in March.

Restaurant workers who depend on tips aren’t making much money, because business remains slow due to the coronavirus, she said. She hasn’t paid rent since June, and is still waiting to hear from the county government about a grant.

“I’m going to keep my head up, because if shit like this ever happens to my children I want them to keep their head up too,” said Alvarez.

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte. Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Heather Timmons and Edward Tobin)

More than 4 million Americans have already voted, suggesting record turnout

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Americans are rushing to cast ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election at an unprecedented pace, early voting numbers show, indicating a possible record turnout for the showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

With four weeks to go before Election Day, more than 4 million Americans already have voted, more than 50 times the 75,000 at this time in 2016, according to the United States Elections Project, which compiles early voting data.

The shift has been driven by an expansion of early and mail-in voting in many states as a safe way to cast a ballot during the coronavirus pandemic and an eagerness to weigh in on the political future of Trump, said Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, who administers the project.

“We’ve never seen this many people voting so far ahead of an election,” McDonald said. “People cast their ballots when they make up their minds, and we know that many people made up their minds long ago and already have a judgment about Trump.”

The early surge has led McDonald to predict a record turnout of about 150 million, representing 65% of eligible voters, the highest rate since 1908.

Biden leads Trump in national opinion polls, although surveys in crucial battleground states indicate a tighter race.

The numbers reported so far come from 31 states, McDonald said, and will grow rapidly as more states begin early in-person voting and report absentee mail-in totals in the next few weeks. All but about a half-dozen states allow some level of early in-person voting.

The percentage of voters who cast their ballot at a voting machine on Election Day already had been in steady decline before this year, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency.

The total number of early or mail-in votes more than doubled from nearly 25 million in 2004 to 57 million in 2016, it said, representing an increase from one in five of all ballots cast to two in five of all ballots cast.

Trump has railed against mail-in voting, making unfounded accusations that it leads to fraud. Experts have said such fraud is rare.

Those attacks by the president have shown signs of depressing Republican interest in voting by mail. Democrats have more than doubled the number of returned mail-in ballots by Republicans in seven states that report voter registration data by party, according to the Elections Project.

In the crucial battleground state of Florida, Democrats have requested more than 2.4 million mail-in ballots and returned 282,000, while Republicans have asked for nearly 1.7 million and returned more than 145,000.

A national Reuters/Ipsos poll taken last week found 5% of Democrats nationwide said they had already voted compared to 2% of Republicans. About 58% of Democrats planned to vote early compared to 40% of Republicans.

McDonald said early voting typically starts strong, then drops before surging just ahead of the election. But in some states, rates of participation already have skyrocketed a month out.

In South Dakota, early voting this year already represents nearly 23% of the total turnout in 2016. It is nearly 17% of total 2016 turnout in Virginia and nearly 15% of total 2016 turnout in the battleground state of Wisconsin.

“That’s just nuts,” McDonald said. “Every piece of data suggests very high turnout for this election. I think that’s just a given.”

(Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Will Dunham)

Biden to hit the campaign trail after negative test for COVID-19

By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden plans to head to the battleground state of Michigan and resume campaigning on Friday after testing negative for coronavirus, hours after President Donald Trump was sidelined by contracting the virus.

Biden, who met in a one-on-one debate with Trump on Tuesday night, and his wife Jill tested negative for coronavirus on Friday, their doctor said in a statement.

After the result was announced, Biden headed to the airport, where he was scheduled to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a campaign event.

“I’m happy to report that Jill and I have tested negative for COVID,” Biden said on Twitter. “Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands.”

Biden earlier sent well wishes to Trump, his rival in the Nov. 3 presidential election, who is experiencing mild symptoms after testing positive for coronavirus.

The White House and his election campaign were scrambling to adjust to the bombshell development.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Wilmington, Delaware, Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

In battleground Wisconsin, some Latinos feel ignored by Biden

By Tim Reid and Dan Simmons

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Cesar Hernandez says he has made thousands of phone calls since June urging Latinos in the battleground state of Wisconsin to support Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

It’s a tough sell, admits Hernandez, especially where he lives on the South Side of Milwaukee, the heart of Wisconsin’s Latino community. He said Biden’s Spanish-language ads on Hulu and Facebook aren’t connecting with the neighborhood’s voters, many of whom would prefer a more personal touch.

“Latinos have seen almost nothing from Biden here,” said Hernandez, 25, who works for the Progressive Turnout Project, a national group working to mobilize Democratic voters. “There is very little enthusiasm for him.”

As the race to the Nov. 3 election enters the home stretch, appeals to Latino voters have taken on new urgency for Biden and incumbent Republican President Donald Trump. Both campaigns are pouring resources into the battleground states of Florida and Arizona, as well as increasingly competitive Nevada, whose large Latino populations could determine the outcome in those states.

Even in Wisconsin, where 87% of the population is white, the state’s 230,000 eligible Latino voters could prove critical. Trump won the state by just 22,000 votes in 2016.

A string of recent polls show Biden ahead in Wisconsin. The polling aggregation website RealClearPolitics has Biden leading Trump by an average of 5.5 percentage points from six polls conducted in September.

Trump has visited the state five times this year. His campaign has opened an office on Milwaukee’s South Side, where authentic taco outlets jostle with bilingual tax preparers and a Puerto Rican barber shop. The windows of the campaign storefront are plastered with Trump signs and its shelves bear merchandise such as “Latinos for Trump” hats.

The Biden campaign said in statements to Reuters that its outreach efforts to Latinos in Wisconsin and nationally were unprecedented in scale.

It said it had a full-time Latino outreach director in Wisconsin and dozens of staff organizing in predominantly Latino communities. It is running Spanish-language phone and text banks and has ads on multiple platforms, including Spanish-language radio and Spanish-language mailers. Dozens of virtual roundtables, rallies and other events targeting the Latino community have been held, the Biden campaign said.

“The campaign has communicated with tens of thousands of Latino voters about the clear choice in this year’s election,” said Jen Molina, Biden’s national Latino media director.

But Reuters interviews with 30 Latino residents and activists on Milwaukee’s South Side suggest those efforts may be falling short, reflecting what some call an “enthusiasm gap” for Biden among Latinos nationwide that has been noted by pollsters and analysts.

Several residents interviewed said the only contact they’ve had with the Biden campaign are phone texts in English soliciting donations. Fifteen of 24 Latino voters interviewed said they would vote for Biden, albeit with little fervor. Some said he was too old and seemed more focused on Black voters and their concerns about social justice.

“It’s like he’s not listening to us,” Hernandez said, adding that many feel Biden is taking them for granted. “We’re not being heard.”

Others blamed the novel coronavirus pandemic. With cases surging in Wisconsin, Biden’s team has stuck to a mostly virtual campaign; plans for a campaign office in Milwaukee’s South Side were scrapped, said Darryl Morin, a Biden campaign volunteer focused on turning out Latino voters.

Trump’s Wisconsin team, meanwhile, has continued door-to-door campaigning and in-person outreach, a strategy that Morin said resonates with Latino voters.

“I completely get why people feel there has been a lack of presence” from Biden’s campaign, Morin said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating the degree we are having to limit the operations. Only one side is continuing to go out in person – the Trump campaign.”

BATTLEGROUND STATE WORRIES

Nationally, Biden leads Trump among registered voters who identify as Hispanics: 53% said they would back the Democrat, while 30% said they would vote for Trump, slightly more than backed the Republican in 2016, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling in September.

But Biden’s 23-point advantage is smaller than the 39-point lead Clinton had over Trump among Hispanic voters on Election Day four years ago.

If his campaign fails to make up that ground, it could prove “disastrous” for Biden in closely contested states with significant Latino populations, said Jaime Regalado, an expert on Latino voters at California State University in Los Angeles.

Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and harsh rhetoric about migrants are widely unpopular with Latinos. Yet polls show many trust him on the economy. In Florida, a must-win state for Trump, he has made inroads with conservative Cuban-Americans with the false claim that Biden and the Democrats are “socialists.” In battleground Arizona, Trump held a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable with voters in Phoenix last month.

The Biden campaign says its virtual events in Wisconsin focused on the Latino community have involved high-profile officials, including Michelle Lujan Grisham, the first Latina Democratic governor of New Mexico. Last month, a virtual bus tour with Democratic members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus held an event in Wisconsin.

Biden’s running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, met last month with representatives of Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin’s biggest immigrant-rights group, which has endorsed the Democratic ticket. Voces says it has staff and volunteers working across the state to register 23,000 new voters by Election Day.

SOUTH SIDE MICROCOSM

The South Side of Milwaukee is a microcosm of Biden’s broader struggles.

Jose Vasquez, 71, a community leader, said it didn’t matter how many text messages, virtual events or phone calls the Biden campaign said it has made.

“You can hand out a thousand fliers, but if you’re not knocking on a single door or talking face-to-face with a single person, you have little impact,” he said in an interview.

Vasquez, a retired school principal, said he wants to see more from Biden on issues Latinos care about, such as a visit to Puerto Rico, which still needs massive aid after a 2017 hurricane, or a trip to the southern border with Mexico to discuss immigration reform.

Democrats had planned to hold Biden’s nominating convention in Milwaukee this summer but were forced to host the four-day event virtually because of the pandemic.

SWITCHING TO TRUMP

A third of the two dozen Latino residents interviewed by Reuters in Milwaukee were enthusiastic Trump supporters.

Among them is Mayra Gomez, 41, a lifelong Democrat. The Puerto Rico native said she began looking at the president after receiving an unsolicited Facebook message from a conservative group urging Latinos to break away from the Democratic Party.

Gomez said she was attracted to Trump’s law-and-order message and his economic policies. She said she’ll vote for him in November, and is urging family and friends to do the same.

“Remember, Trump’s not a politician. He’s a businessman,” Gomez said. “What he says may sound funny, but he’s actually speaking the truth.”

The Biden campaign says it is ramping up efforts as the election nears.

On Sept. 26, Todos con Biden, a national coalition of Latino organizers and volunteers working to elect Biden, held its first outdoor event in Wisconsin. At a park on Milwaukee’s South Side, it handed out 500 campaign yard signs.

(Reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles and Dan Simmons in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn in New York. Editing by Ross Colvin and Marla Dickerson)

Both Biden, Pence attend New York 9/11 memorial, Trump at Pennsylvania crash site

By Trevor Hunnicutt

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence, both masked, joined New York’s somber 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, while President Donald Trump marked it at the Pennsylvania crash site of a hijacked jet.

Biden and Pence bumped elbows in greeting, one of the many ways the anniversary ceremony has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 191,000 people in the United States including 32,700 in New York state.

About 200 people including Governor Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer joined the New York ceremony, where family members read the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed when two hijacked jets slammed into the Twin Towers, with a third hitting the Pentagon and a fourth taken down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when its passengers rose up against the al Qaeda hijackers.

A similar memorial ceremony was being held at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, where people sat socially distanced on folding chairs near the site that Flight 93 went down.

“The only thing that stood between the enemy and a deadly strike at the heart of American democracy was the courage and resolve of 40 men and women – the amazing passengers and crew of Flight 93,” Trump told the crowd.

Biden is also due to visit Shanksville separately later in the day. Prior to boarding a plane from his Delaware home, Biden pledged not to make any news during the solemn day.

“I’m not going to talk about anything other than 9/11. We took all our advertising down. It’s a solemn day, and that’s how we’re going to keep it, okay?,” Biden said.

‘IT NEVER GOES AWAY’

The sun struggled to pierce hazy clouds in New York, a contrast with the 2001 morning of the attacks, which people present that day remember for its piercing, clear skies.

At the memorial site, Biden spoke to 90-year-old Maria Fisher, who lost her son in the 9/11 attacks. He told her he lost his son as well, and lamented, “It never goes away, does it?”

He handed her the rose he was holding.

Asked what today means for him, Biden replied, “It means I remember all my friends that I lost.”

The ruins of the shattered World Trade Center have since been replaced by a glittering $25 billion complex that includes three skyscrapers, a museum and the memorial with the goal that it would be again be an international hub of commerce.

But the pandemic has rendered it somewhat of a small ghost town, adding an eerie quality to the commemoration of the attack, with office workers staying home and tourists avoiding the memorial site.

The virus also altered the memorial event, with family members pre-recording the traditional reading of the names of the victims and the crowds at the site severely restricted.

Amanda Barreto, 27, of Teaneck, New Jersey, lost her godmother and aunt in the attacks. Biden came up to her and offered his condolences.

“He knows what it means to lose someone. He wanted me to stay strong,” Barreto said afterward. “And he’s so sorry for my loss.”

The Shanksville event was also closed to the public because of coronavirus concerns, the National Park Service said.

Flight 93, bound for San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey, never hit its intended target — the four hijackers were believed to be planning to crash it into either the U.S. Capitol or the White House — after passengers stormed the cockpit and attempted to regain control of the aircraft.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Jeff Mason in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, additional reporting by John Whitesides, Joseph Ax and Jarrett Renshaw; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O’Brien and Diane Craft)

Former prosecutor Harris to target Trump’s virus response in U.S. campaign push

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Kamala Harris joins presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on the campaign trail for the second time in two days on Thursday in an appearance that will focus on hammering President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden and Harris will receive a briefing on COVID-19 from public health experts and then deliver speeches in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

The remarks will illustrate the campaign’s role for Harris, the first Black woman and Asian-American on a major-party U.S. presidential ticket.

Rather than being tied to any specific target demographic groups, Harris will have three roles to play as a campaign spokeswoman: energizing people to vote and volunteer, outlining Biden’s policy vision and prosecuting the case against Trump, according to a person familiar with the strategy.

Trump long played down the risks of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 165,000 Americans – the highest death toll in the world – and thrown tens of millions out of work.

The former prosecutor is expected to focus on Trump’s response to the crisis, which has been an effective political argument against Trump for Biden so far.

Biden, after introducing Harris’ personal story on Wednesday in their first joint appearance since picking his running mate, quickly moved to talking about the urgency of the moment.

Trump, for his part, on Twitter Thursday accused the news media of giving Harris “a free pass despite her Radical Left failures and very poor run in the Democrat Primary.”

Harris made her debut as Biden’s running mate on Wednesday in Delaware, delivering a rebuke of Trump’s leadership and highlighting the historic significance of her new role, while helping the campaign collect $26 million in its best day of fundraising yet.

In the coming weeks, Harris will do events in person and virtually, including several jointly with Biden, much like some of the socially distanced campaign stops and speeches Biden has given in recent weeks in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

The campaign is still unsure of whether they will be able to campaign as normal, saying they intend to follow local public health guidance that continues to discourage large gatherings as the virus has killed more than 160,000 Americans and negotiations stalled over a government package to manage the economic fallout.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)

Exclusive: Harris could help Biden with women, young voters, maybe some Republicans too – Reuters/Ipsos poll

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Nearly nine out of 10 Democrats approve of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as their party’s vice presidential nominee, and she is more popular than presidential candidate Joe Biden among women, young voters and some Republicans, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

The Aug. 11-12 public opinion survey also found that 60% of Americans, including 87% of Democrats and 37% of Republicans, considered the selection of Harris – the first Black woman and Asian American nominated for vice presidency – to be a “major milestone” for the United States.

The U.S. Senator from California is viewed about as favorably or better than Biden in most major demographic groups, the poll showed, highlighting her potential to help the former vice president expand his support in November’s election.

Harris, 55, is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants and made her own bid for the White House. She was a former prosecutor and state attorney general in California, and became only the second Black female U.S. senator in history when elected in 2016.

The poll showed Biden’s lead over Republican President Donald Trump was effectively unchanged after he announced his running mate choice, increasing by 1 percentage point among all Americans to an 8-point advantage – well within the poll’s credibility interval – when compared with a similar poll that ran on Monday and Tuesday.

Forty-six percent of U.S. adults said they would vote for a Biden/Harris ticket, while 38% would vote for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. A similar poll that ran on Monday and Tuesday showed that 44% would vote for Biden while 37% would back Trump.

The latest poll also found that 56% of Americans have a favorable impression of Harris, which is about the same as the number who favor Biden. Forty-two percent of U.S. adults say they have a favorable view of Trump and 47% said the same of Pence.

Among women, 60% said they have a favorable view of Harris, compared with 53% who felt the same way about Biden. Women are the dominant force in American elections: they make up a bigger proportion of the U.S. electorate than men, and a surge in support for Democrats among white, college-educated women helped the party retake the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018.

Biden already has an advantage over Trump among women overall, but he has not improved his standing among black women in recent months, while white women without college degrees still largely favor Trump.

EDGE WITH REPUBLICANS

In addition, about 25% of Republicans said they had a favorable view of Harris and approve of her choice as Biden’s running mate. Only about 20% of Republicans said they have a similarly favorable view of Biden.

In a close election, peeling off even a small number of voters from the Republican Party could make a difference to the Democrats, political analysts said.

Harris also is a little more popular among American adults who are younger than 35 years old: 62% said they view Harris favorably, while 60% said the same of Biden.

Public opinion could change and Trump’s re-election campaign sharpens its criticism of the Democratic challengers. Within minutes of Biden’s announcement on Tuesday, Trump had called Harris “nasty,” “horrible” and “disrespectful,” while his campaign painted her as an extremist who would yank the moderate Biden to the left.

In choosing Harris, Biden heeded calls from Black leaders and activists to choose a woman of color as a running mate and avoid a repeat of 2016, when the first decline of Black voter turnout in 20 years helped Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton. Black Americans – and Black women particularly – are the most loyal Democratic constituencies.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,000 adults, including 389 Republicans and 419 Democrats. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Chris Kahn, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Grant McCool)