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Surging coronavirus colors White House race in closing days

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — President Donald Trump assured supporters packed shoulder to shoulder at a trio of rallies Saturday that “we’re rounding the turn” on the coronavirus — despite spiking cases — and mocked challenger Joe Biden for raising alarms about the pandemic. Meanwhile, Biden bemoaned to a smaller gathering the need to campaign at a distance but said he understood the public health reasons behind it.

With coronavirus infections reaching their highest peak of the pandemic just as the election headed into the home stretch, Trump and Biden took starkly different approaches to the public health crisis in appealing for votes in battleground states.

Underscoring that difference, Vice President Mike Pence’s office announced he would continue with his aggressive campaign schedule after his chief of staff, Marc Short, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday — even though Pence is considered a “close contact” under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, both tested negative for the virus on Saturday “and remain in good health.”

“We don’t want to become superspreaders,” Biden told supporters at a “drive-in” rally Saturday in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, picking up a term that has been used to describe the Rose Garden event in late September in which Trump announced his latest Supreme Court nominee. More than two dozen people linked to the White House have contracted COVID-19 since that gathering, as have campaign aides.

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Murkowski’s nod gives Barrett extra boost for Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett won crucial backing Saturday when one of the last Republican holdouts against filling the seat during an election season announced support for President Donald Trump’s pick ahead of a confirmation vote expected Monday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, declared her support during a rare weekend Senate session as Republicans race to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Senators are set Sunday to push ahead, despite Democratic objections that the winner of the White House on Nov. 3 should make the choice to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett’s nomination already appeared to have enough votes for confirmation from Senate Republicans who hold the majority in the chamber. But Murkowski’s nod gives her a boost of support. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is now expected to vote against the conservative judge.

“While I oppose the process that has led us to this point, I do not hold it against her,” Murkowski said.

The fast-track confirmation process is like none other in U.S. history so close to a presidential election. Calling it a “sham,” Democrats mounted procedural hurdles to slow it down. But the minority party has no realistic chance of stopping Barrett’s confirmation, which is set to lock a 6-3 conservative court majority for years to come.

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Eyes turn to Texas as early voting surge surpasses 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas has already cast nearly 7 million votes, more than anywhere in America, and Glen Murdoch couldn’t get his ballot in fast enough after becoming a U.S. citizen this summer.

“I was champing at the bit,” said Murdoch, who moved to Austin from Australia shortly after President Donald Trump took office, and cast a ballot last week to vote him out.

It’s a rush to the polls in Texas like seldom seen before.

Ten days before Election Day, Texans have already cast as many early votes as they did in 2016 and are nearly 80% of the way toward hitting the total — both early and on Election Day — counted four years ago. The voting bonanza has some Democrats optimistic that decades of low turnout and undisputed Republican dominance may soon be a thing of the past.

But what that it all means for Texas is far from clear. Voters don’t register by party in the state, making it difficult to know which party or presidential candidate has an edge. Polls are unusually close in Texas, but neither President Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden has swung through Texas, focusing on clear battleground states instead like Arizona and Florida.

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Four years in, Trump has plenty of unfinished business

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump swept into office nearly four years ago as an outsider who promised to get things done quickly on behalf of the American people through sheer force of will and unrivaled knowledge about the art of the deal.

He has checked off some items on his to-do list.

Trump pushed through the most significant overhaul of the U.S. tax system since President Ronald Reagan. Trump, as he said he would, tilted the Supreme Court further to the right with confirmation of two conservative justices and likely a third, Amy Coney Barrett, in the coming days. His promise to get tough on illegal immigration has resulted in a surge in migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Trump has also faced the same hard truth that each of his White House predecessors learned: Governing is rarely easy.

A look at some of the president’s unfinished business as he asks voters for a second term in the White House:

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US sets coronavirus infection record; deaths near 224,000

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. coronavirus caseload has reached record heights with more than 83,000 infections reported in a single day, the latest ominous sign of the disease’s grip on the nation, as states from Connecticut to the Rocky Mountain West reel under the surge.

The U.S. death toll, meanwhile, has grown to 223,995, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard published by Johns Hopkins University. The total U.S. caseload reported on the site Friday was 83,757, topping the 77,362 cases reported on July 16.

The impact is being felt in every section of the country — a lockdown starting Friday at the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s reservation in South Dakota, a plea by a Florida health official for a halt to children’s birthday parties, dire warnings from Utah’s governor, and an increasingly desperate situation at a hospital in northern Idaho, which is running out of space for patients and considering airlifts to Seattle or Portland, Oregon.

“We’ve essentially shut down an entire floor of our hospital. We’ve had to double rooms. We’ve bought more hospital beds,” said Dr. Robert Scoggins, a pulmonologist at the Kootenai Health hospital in Coeur d’Alene. “Our hospital is not built for a pandemic.”

In the southern Idaho city of Twin Falls, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center said it would no longer accept children because it is overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. Except for newborns, all under age 18 will be sent 128 miles (206 kilometers) away in Boise.

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Reid says Biden should end Senate filibuster after 3 weeks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Senate leader Harry Reid says if Democrats win the presidency and the Senate, Joe Biden should take “no more than three weeks” to test bipartisanship before ending the filibuster so Democrats can overcome what they call Republican obstruction and pass bills.

The retired Nevada Democrat told The Associated Press in an interview that he understands Biden wants to work with Republicans, as the former vice president and Delaware senator has in the past. But Reid said there is just too much that needs to be done in the country to wait around trying to reach agreements under the decades-old Senate practice of requiring 60 votes to advance legislation.

“Biden — who wants always to get along with people — I understand that,” Reid said by telephone from Nevada.

“We should give the Republicans a little bit of time, to see if they’re going to work with him,” he said. “But the time’s going to come when he’s going to have to move in and get rid of the filibuster.”

Asked how long Biden should wait it out before changing the rules, Reid said: “No more than three weeks.”

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The Latest: Pence’s top aide tests positive for coronavirus

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

10:50 p.m.

A spokesman says Vice President Mike Pence will continue with his aggressive campaign schedule after his chief of staff, Marc Short, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday.

Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley says Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, both tested negative for the virus on Saturday and remain in good health.

Short is Pence’s closest aide and the vice president is considered a “close contact” under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. O’Malley says that “in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.”

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Crews vacuum ‘murder hornets’ out of Washington nest

BLAINE, Wash. (AP) — Heavily protected crews in Washington state worked Saturday to destroy the first nest of so-called murder hornets discovered in the United States.

The state Agriculture Department had spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are the biggest threat to honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops.

The nest found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border is about the size of a basketball and contained an estimated 100 to 200 hornets, according to scientists who announced the find Friday.

Crews wearing thick protective suits vacuumed the invasive insects from the cavity of a tree into large canisters Saturday. The suits prevent the hornets’ 6-millimeter-long stingers from hurting workers, who also wore face shields because the trapped hornets can spit a painful venom into their eyes.

The tree will be cut down to extract newborn hornets and learn if any queens have left the hive already, scientists said. Officials suspect more nests may be in the area and will keep searching. A news briefing was planned Monday on the status of the nest.

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Boat parades, road rallies buoy Trump and his supporters

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — When a flotilla of pontoon and fishing boats decked out with “Trump 2020” flags cruised past him this summer, Dale Fullenkamp got an idea.

“I figured I don’t have a boat, but I do have a tractor,” he said.

Soon he was leading nearly 300 combines and tractors pulling hay wagons and manure spreaders through the western Ohio village of Fort Recovery, one of many parades nationwide organized by a swell of grassroots supporters for President Donald Trump.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Fullenkamp, a 19-year-old who graduated from high school just last spring. “I thought it’d be just me and my buddies.”

These Trump parades — whether by boat, pickup truck or tractor — have become a show of strength for the president’s supporters and a way to make themselves visible in a year when the coronavirus pandemic has upended traditional campaigning and put a stop to huge arena rallies and picnic fundraisers.

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Beyond the Needle: Probability experts assess 2020 race

NEW YORK (AP) — The one thing most likely to conjure nightmares of the 2016 election night for opponents of President Donald Trump is the Needle.

A graphic on The New York Times’ website, the Needle measured in real time the probability of victory for Trump or Hillary Clinton as votes were counted. Its steady movement triggered anxiety for Clinton supporters, who repeatedly refreshed the page, and elation for Trump fans.

There’s no sign that the Needle will be making a reappearance on Nov. 3, which would be one change in the world of election probability gurus following the unexpected 2016 result. Nate Silver’s influential FiveThirtyEight blog used a number, not a needle, for the same task four years ago but won’t on election night 2020.

Silver said the change had more to do with uncertainties created by the high volume of early voting this year than any failures in 2016.

“I just think people need to be exceptionally careful,” he said.