Facing criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and trailing in the polls, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday called himself a “Superman” survivor of the deadly virus as he spoke to supporters at a rally in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
Mr Trump, appearing vigorous but with an occasionally raspy voice, spoke to a crowd of thousands for a little over an hour at his second rally since being infected by the virus, and weeks away from the November 3 presidential election.
He handed out masks to members of the crowd and said he “felt like Superman” after taking a cocktail of experimental drugs. White House doctors said the president tested negative for the coronavirus.
“We’re rounding the turn on the pandemic,” Mr Trump, unmasked, told the crowd.
“The vaccines are coming soon, the therapeutics and frankly the cure.”
Mr Trump used the rally at an airport outside Johnstown to try to persuade voters that not only had he recovered from the virus but that he should lead the US for four more years.
Coronavirus has infected more than 7.8 million people in the US, killed more than 220,000 and made millions jobless.
Case numbers are rising in Pennsylvania and other states that Republican Mr Trump needs to win.
He has faced criticism for not encouraging followers at rallies, and West Wing employees, to wear protective masks and follow social-distancing rules. More than 10 of Mr Trump’s aides have tested positive for the virus.
Speaking that night in Florida, another battleground state with a large electoral value, Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s Democratic challenger, accused the president of being reckless and spreading misinformation about the pathogen.
“While he throws super spreader parties at the White House where Republicans hug each other without concern of the consequences, how many of you have been unable to hug your grandkids in the last seven months?” asked Mr Biden.
At Johnstown, guests' temperatures were checked on entry. Masks were available, but only about a third of followers wore them and social-distancing guidelines were not followed in the cramped seating areas.
"It's not a worry," Dave Hessler, 52, an ex-serviceman, told The National.
“The national news media doesn’t talk about all the treatments that are available, they just focus on the doom and gloom. It’s about common sense, washing your hands and keeping them away from your face.”
Wearing red Make America Great Again baseball caps and other pro-Trump gear, the crowd demanded “four more years” for the president and chanted “fill the seat”, in reference to a Supreme Court appointment.
“He got pretty much cured of it. Now he’s back,” said Tim Lenhart, 62, a retired prison warden. “I think we’re way overreacting. I think it's gonna spread; there are people who get it even when they have masks [on].”
A recent study by Pew Research Centre found that about six in 10 Americans said the country did not controlled the pandemic as well as it could have. Four-in-ten said the importance of the outbreak was exaggerated.
Republicans express fewer concerns about the virus than Democrats.
Mr Trump addressed the crowd as legislators in Washington edged closer to voting on a coronavirus relief bill for businesses and jobless Americans, although Republicans were unwilling to meet the Democrats’ demand for a $2.2 trillion package.
The president's return to campaign rallies this week kicked off a sprint to next month's election. The 74-year-old Mr Trump seeks to change his fortunes as national opinion polls put him ten percentage points behind Mr Biden, 77.
His America First message resonated with blue-collar voters in rural Pennsylvania, which has been hit by decades of economic decline, while Mr Biden polls better in big cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Mr Trump won Pennsylvania with a 0.7 per cent lead over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. That may not be repeated in 2020, with Mr Biden scoring an average 49.8 per cent in polls against Mr Trump’s 44 per cent.
Still, Mr Lenhart predicted a big Republican win in Pennsylvania.
“The strength of these peoples’ belief in Trump is unbelievable. They're gonna come out of mountains in their bare feet if they have to, to vote for Trump,” said Mr Lenhart.
The rally started out as standing room only, but temperatures quickly fell to 10 degrees after sunset and a large chunk of the crowd began filing out of the airport well before Mr Trump had finished speaking.