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US election: Trump and Biden campaign in states they hope to flip

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President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden have kicked off the final stretch of the election season with campaign events in states they both hope to flip on November 3.

With just more than two weeks before the election, Trump began on Sunday in Nevada, making a rare visit to church before an evening rally in Carson City. Once considered a battleground, Nevada has not swung for a Republican presidential contender since 2004. Hillary Clinton won the state by just 2.4 percentage points in 2016.

Meanwhile, Biden, a practising Catholic, attended mass in Delaware before campaigning in North Carolina, where a Democrat has not won in the White House race since Barack Obama in 2008. Trump won the state by 3.6 percentage points in 2016.

Both candidates are trying to make inroads in states that could help secure a path to victory, but the dynamics of the race are remarkably stable. Biden enjoys a significant advantage in national polls, with the RealClearPolitics news site showing the former vice president leading by an average of 9 percentage points nationally. Biden has a smaller edge in battleground surveys.

Trump in Nevada

With Trump seated in the front row at the nondenominational International Church of Las Vegas, the senior associate pastor, Denise Goulet told attendees God told her the president is the apple of his eye and would secure a second term.

“At 4:30, the Lord said to me, ‘I am going to give your president a second win’,” she said, telling Trump, “you will be the president again”.

President Donald Trump closes his eyes as he accepts blessings as he attends church at International Church of Las Vegas in Nevada [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

Trump, whose support from evangelicals was key to his 2016 victory, offered brief remarks, saying “I love going to churches” and that it was “a great honour” to attend the service. The president also said “we have a group on the other side that doesn’t agree with us”, and he urged people to “get out there on November 3 or sooner” to vote. He dropped a wad of $20 bills in the collection plate before leaving.

Despite the pandemic, there were no efforts to social distance or limit singing, which health officials classify as a high-risk activity. Few attendees wore masks inside the church.

Biden in North Carolina

Meanwhile, Biden addressed supporters at a drive-in rally in Durham, North Carolina, where he focused heavily on promoting criminal justice changes to combat institutional racism and he promised to help build wealth among the African American community.

Speaking from a stage in a parking lot with about 70 cars, Biden said North Carolina is crucial to his chance of victory.

“It’s going to make all the difference here in North Carolina,” said Biden, who removed his face mask when he spoke. “And the stakes couldn’t be higher.”

He noted Trump had said at one of his rallies the country had turned the corner on the pandemic.

“As my grandfather would say, this guy’s gone around the bend if he thinks we’ve turned the corner. Turning the corner? Things are getting worse,” Biden said.

Democratic vice presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris, cancelled in-person events over the weekend as a precaution after an aide tested positive for COVID-19. She will return to the campaign trail on Monday with a visit to Florida to mark that state’s first day of early in-person voting.

Harris tested negative for the virus on Sunday, the campaign said.

Diverging tactics

The approaches each candidate are taking in the closing days of the contest are widely divergent, with Biden embracing public health guidelines for campaigning during a pandemic.

He wears a mask in public when not speaking and his events emphasise social distancing.

Trump, for his part, has returned to hosting his signature rallies, where attendees are squeezed shoulder to shoulder and many do not wear masks. He continues to play down the coronavirus, even though he is recovering from his own bout with it.

In addition to public polling that indicates Biden has an edge, the Democratic challenger’s campaign has another considerable advantage over Trump’s: Money.

Over the past four months, his campaign has raised more than $1bn, and that has enabled him to eclipse Trump’s once-massive cash advantage.

That has become apparent in advertising, where Biden and his Democratic allies are on pace to outspend Trump and the Republicans by twofold in the closing days of the race, according to data from the advertisement tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.

Though Trump has largely retreated from advertising in Midwestern states that secured his 2016 win, he has invested heavily elsewhere, including North Carolina, where he is on pace to slightly outspend Biden in the days ahead.

In Nevada, Democrats are set to outspend Trump in the closing days by more than 3-to-1.

Trump’s visit to the state is part of an aggressive schedule of campaign events, where he has leaned heavily into fear tactics.

Despite the positive polling and financial outlook, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said over the weekend the national figures are misleading because must-win states are close.

“We cannot become complacent because the very searing truth is that Donald Trump can still win this race, and every indication we have shows that this thing is going to come down to the wire,” she wrote in a memo to donors.

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Israel strikes Gaza after rocket attack

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Israeli army says it struck Hamas military targets in the besieged strip after two rockets were fired into Israel.

The Israeli military says it launched overnight air attack in the besieged Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters fired rockets, with no reports of casualties or significant damage on either side.

The military said Palestinian fighters fired two rockets into Israel late on Thursday. One was intercepted by the Israeli missile defence system, while the other fell in an open area.

“In response to the 2 rockets that were fired from Gaza at Israel earlier tonight, our Air Force just struck Hamas military targets in Gaza,” the Israeli army said on Twitter.

“Hamas will bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians,” it added.

Sirens were sounded in a region south of Israel that borders the Gaza Strip to warn residents of the incoming fire.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket attack.

The last reported rocket attack from Gaza was on Tuesday night.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several skirmishes since the Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian groups in 2007.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza, including those claimed by other fighter groups based in the region.

New tunnel discovered

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza Strip – a coastal territory which is home to two million Palestinians – since Hamas seized power.

The latest incident came after the Israeli army announced it had found a new tunnel that crosses “dozens of metres into Israel” from the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian coastal enclave.

The next day, the army said the tunnel belonged to Hamas.

Authorities have discovered some 20 tunnels originating from Gaza since 2014, army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said this week.

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‘True progressive Bangladesh’: Cricketer hits critics for a six

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Top cricketer Sanjida Islam’s viral photoshoot – dressed for her wedding and holding a bat – triggers both accolades and criticism.

One of Bangladesh’s top women cricketers has hit critics for a six after being accused of disrespecting national culture by posing for photos in full wedding attire and a bat.

Pictures of Sanjida Islam wielding a cricket bat while dressed in an orange sari and wearing dozens of bangles went viral after she posted them on social media last week.

The International Cricket Council – the sport’s governing body – retweeted the pictures to hundreds of thousands of worldwide followers with a tick against a wedding-ceremony checklist reading: “Dress, jewellery, cricket bat.”

But some in her Muslim-majority home country said she had gone too far.

“There is nothing in her that an Islamic society can follow,” said one on Facebook. Others called for “strict punishment”.

Most people, however, loved the impromptu photoshoot.

“I did not plan to pose with a bat,” said Sanjida, who went to the stadium with groom Mim Mosaddeak – who plays for Rangpur in the Bangladesh championship – the day before their formal vows.

While some in Bangladesh believed Sanjida Islam went too far, others loved the impromptu photoshoot [AFP/Courtesy of Sanjida Islam]

“I saw some kids playing; I just could not resist … my team-mates captured the moment beautifully.

“I shared the photos casually on Facebook and Instagram. I had no idea they would go viral,” she told AFP news agency.

Fans of Sanjida, who has played 16 one-day internationals and 54 Twenty20 internationals for Bangladesh, agreed with the cricketer.

“This photo reflects true progressive Bangladesh,” said one on social media.

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US election debate does little to sway stock market investors

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US stock index futures and Asian shares trade within tight ranges, as investors say they remain cautious ahead of polls.

Global stocks barely budged on Friday as investors remained wary with less than two weeks to go before the United States presidential election and awaited a breakthrough in fiscal stimulus talks in Washington, DC.

The final debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Thursday night presented few surprises for election watchers but slightly reinforced investor caution heading into the November 3 polls.

US S&P 500 stock index futures had dipped slightly after the debate but were mostly flat by midday trade in Asia. The underlying index had gained about 0.5 percent in the previous day on hopes that the US Congress and the White House could soon strike a deal on another round of COVID-19 stimulus funding to support companies and jobs.

Shares in Asia hardly budged, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan flat while Japan’s Nikkei ticked up 0.2 percent.

The CSI 300 index of mainland Chinese stocks also edged up 0.2 percent.

Coronavirus and corruption

At Thursday’s debate, Biden renewed his criticism of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as Trump levelled unfounded corruption accusations at Biden and his family.

“I don’t think there’s anything new in it, I think that’s why the market is not moving much. The focus is still on the timing of the fiscal stimulus and how big it is,” said Moh Siong Sim, foreign exchange analyst at Bank of Singapore.

On Thursday, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi reported progress in talks with the Trump administration for another round of financial aid, saying the legislation could be hammered out “pretty soon”.

While the news helped to lift US share prices, the US S&P 500 is still down 0.9 percent so far this week amid uncertainties over stimulus and the election.

US S&P 500 futures after presidential debates chart [Bloomberg]

A widening lead in opinion polls by Biden is prompting many investors to bet on a Biden presidency and also a “blue sweep”, where Democrats win both chambers of Congress.

“A blue wave may lead to concerns about the impact on the tech sector, while a Biden win and a split Congress may imply another four years of limited policy changes and politicking,” said Mary Nicola, senior economist at Pinebridge Investments in Singapore.

Reflecting concerns that Democrats could take a harder stance on big tech firms, the Nasdaq index, which had led the market’s rally, has underperformed lately, having lost 1.4 percent so far this week.

Expectations of bigger government stimulus have also boosted US borrowing costs.

The yield on the 10-year US Treasury note rose to a four-and-a-half-month high of 0.87 percent on Thursday and last stood at 0.853 percent.

US jobs hope

US economic data published on Thursday were stronger than expected, as jobless claims fell by more than analyst forecasts and existing home sales rose to a more than 14-year high.

In the currency market, the US dollar bounced back from Wednesday’s seven-week low but stayed under pressure as investors began to wager on a Biden presidency and big US stimulus package.

The euro traded at $1.1803, down 0.2 percent and off Wednesday’s high of $1.1805 but still up 0.7 percent on the week.

The yen changed hands at 104.77 yen per dollar, stepping back a tad after its biggest gain in nearly two months on Wednesday.

The Chinese yuan stood at 6.6729 per US dollar in offshore trade, off the 27-month high of 6.6278 it touched on Wednesday.

Oil prices were supported by hopes of US stimulus and the prospect of extended output cuts by the world’s top exporters.

Brent crude futures ticked up 0.3 percent to $42.59 per barrel while US crude futures rose 0.25 percent to $40.74 per barrel.

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