predicts victory in election battleground Michigan as thousands defy coronavirus safety rules

By Andrea Shalal

FREELAND, Mich. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald predicted at a rally in Michigan on Thursday that he would win the election battleground state as thousands of cheering, largely maskless supporters defied state guidelines aimed at containing the novel coronavirus.

"This is not the crowd of a guy who comes in second place," told men, women and children - many wearing red "Make America Great Again" T-shirts and hats - as he stood in front of the presidential aircraft Air Force One at an airport near Midland, Michigan.

campaign officials say that in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election, they are planning to spend "massive amounts" of time in Michigan, an industrial state that along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, helped propel to victory in 2016.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden leads Republican among all likely voters nationally by 12 percentage points, according a Reuters/Ipsos poll. But Biden's lead is slimmer in Michigan, averaging just 4.2 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2020/president/mi/michigan__vs_biden-6761.html

campaign deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager said was tapping into "organic enthusiasm from those who are disillusioned with career politicians like Joe Biden," and would attract new voters to "expand an already broad coalition of support."

Biden visited Michigan on Wednesday, hammering over his taped comments to Washington Post writer Bob Woodward in which he said he was purposely downplaying the threat of the virus to avoid public panic.

Biden also unveiled an "offshoring tax penalty" on profits from products made overseas and sold in the United States, taking a page out of 's trade playbook.

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The two politicians have widely divergent views on nearly everything, but both agree on the need to bring back manufacturing supply chains to the United States from China, and Biden is likely to keep many of 's tariffs in place initially if he were elected.

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criticized Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions, saying she "doesn't have a clue" about reopening the state's economy, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Whitmer's office had no immediate comment on the size of the crowd, which appeared to violate state rules https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499_100891---,00.html against gatherings of more than 50 people.

Greg Fernandez, 63, who works in real estate, said he was not wearing a mask at the rally because he had "already had" the virus, "so I'm good." Fernandez said he expected to win Michigan handily, adding: "No more globalists, no more new world order. We need a businessman to run our country, and he's done a great job."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Grant McCool)

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