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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Minden-Tahoe Airport in Minden, Nev., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

MINDEN, Nev. (AP) — Kicking off a Western swing, President Donald Trump made his way to Nevada for the weekend, looking to expand his path to victory while unleashing unsubstantiated claims that Democrats were trying to steal the election.

Trump defied local authorities by holding a Saturday night rally in tiny Minden after his initial plan to hold one in Reno was stopped out of concern it would have violated coronavirus health guidelines. Unleashing 90-plus minutes of grievances and attacks, Trump claimed the state's Democratic governor tried to block him and repeated his claim that mail-in ballots would taint the election result.

"This is the guy we are entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots, and we're supposed to win these states. Who the hell is going to trust him?" Trump said of Gov. Steve Sisolak. "The only way the Democrats can win the election is if they rig it."

As part of his ongoing crusade against mail-in voting, lawyers for the president's re-election campaign are urging a federal judge in Las Vegas to block a state law and prevent mail-in ballots from going to all active Nevada voters less than eight weeks before the election.

Addressing a mostly mask-less crowd tightly packed together, Trump spoke in front of mountains draped in haze, the scent of smoke in the air from wildfires raging a state away in California. The president expressed his condolences to the victims but, declaring "I don't have to be nice anymore," focused on tearing into his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

Trump claimed the Democrat's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, would be president "in about a month" if Biden won, asserting the former vice president would be but a figurehead and Harris would hold power. He claimed the media would treat Biden "like Winston Churchill" if he was able to merely stand on the debate stage in three weeks. And embarking on a swing that would also include stops in Las Vegas and Phoenix, Trump mocked Biden's slower travel schedule.

"You know where he is now? He is in his damn basement again!"

And, for good measure, Trump invoked his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, leading the crowd to launch into a "Lock Her Up!" chant. The president claimed he usually tried to stop the chant but on Saturday declared, "I don't care if you say it anymore" and suggested Clinton "should be in jail."

Trump also defended his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 190,000 Americans and still claims nearly 1,000 lives a day. And he blamed Democratic governors across the nation, including Sisolak, for slowing the pace of reopening their states to hurt his election chances.

State Republicans claimed Sisolak tried to stop the rally, but the decision to cancel the Reno event was made by airport officials. Sisolak has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines.

Privately, the Trump campaign welcomed the fight, believing it highlighted a re-election theme: Trump's insistence the nation has turned the corner on the pandemic, while Democrats, including Biden and governors, are hurting the nation's economy and psyche with stringent restrictions.

Several thousand people covered the tarmac in Minden, including Tom Lenz, 64, of Sparks, Nevada, who said he didn't vote for Trump last time.

"But I will this time. I think he knows what he's doing," Lenz said. "He's pro-faith, pro-life, he's made more peace in the world. Biden can't even talk."

Trump narrowly lost Nevada in 2016 to Clinton, and the state has trended further toward the Democrats in the past decade. However, Trump's campaign has invested heavily in the state, relying on its ground game to turn out voters. Democrats, by contrast, have largely relied on virtual campaign efforts during the pandemic, save for the casino workers' Culinary Union, which has sent workers door to door.

The White House announced Saturday, while out west, Trump will also visit California today to receive a briefing on the wildfires racing through the region. He has largely been silent on the blazes, which Oregon's emergency management director said was a possible "mass fatality event."

Some Democrats fear a possible Trump momentum gain in Nevada, with the president showing increasing support from Latinos and non-college education white voters, two important constituencies in the state.

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