By Jeff Mason and Michael Martina
CARSON CITY, Nevada/DURHAM, N.C. (Reuters) - President Donald Trump implored supporters in Nevada on Sunday to cast ballots early in a state he narrowly lost in 2016, while Democrat Joe Biden urged North Carolina residents to "go vote today," as the final presidential debate looms later this week.
Some 27.9 million Americans have already cast ballots either by mail or in person ahead of the Nov. 3 election, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida. The record-shattering figure is being driven in part by concerns about crowds at polling sites on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic.
At a rally in Carson City, Nevada, a state where voting started on Saturday, Trump told attendees: "Early voting is under way, so get out and vote."
In North Carolina, a battleground where 1.4 million, or 20%, of the state's registered voters had already voted as of Sunday morning, Biden asked people to cast ballots as soon as possible. The race is neck and neck in the state, which Trump won by 3.66 percentage points in 2016.
"We gotta keep the incredible momentum going; we can't let up," Biden told a "drive-in rally" in Durham, as attendees sitting in their cars honked in approval. "Don't wait - go vote today."
Biden also criticized Trump for saying over the weekend that the United States had "turned the corner" in the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the rate of new cases across the country had risen to the highest level in months.
"As my grandfather would say: 'This guy's gone around the bend if he thinks we've turned the corner,'" Biden said. "Things are getting worse, and he continues to lie to us about circumstances."
Despite Trump's recent recovery from his own bout with the virus, he mocked Biden in Nevada for his cautious approach toward the pandemic. There was little social distancing at the packed outdoor rally at the Carson City airport.
"Listen to the scientists!" Trump said in a mocking voice. "If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression."
The Biden campaign responded almost immediately. "New coronavirus cases are surging and layoffs are rising," said spokesman Andrew Bates.
The two will debate for a final time on Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee. Their second scheduled debate, set for last Thursday, was canceled when Trump pulled out of the event after organizers said it would be virtual to lessen the risk of infection.
HARRIS RETURNING TO TRAIL
Biden's pick for vice president, Senator Kamala Harris, canceled 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.
The president, who rarely goes to church but has remained popular among evangelical Christians for his opposition to abortion and for appointing conservative judges, began his day by attending a service at the International Church of Las Vegas. Trump did not wear a mask for the indoor service.
One of the church's pastors, Denise Goulet, said to Trump from the stage that God had told her he would win the 2020 election. Trump put a handful of $20 bills into an offering bucket and bowed his head during a prayer.
Trump will campaign every day leading up to Thursday's debate, including stops in Arizona and North Carolina, campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
While Trump lags in opinion polls at the national level and in many battleground states, Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said over the weekend that the national figures were misleading because must-win states were 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.
U.S. presidential elections are determined by electoral votes, allotted to U.S. states and territories based largely on their populations, rather than by a tally of the popular vote nationwide.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Carson City, Nevada, and Michael Martina in Durham, North Carolina; Writing by Joseph Ax, Jarrett Renshaw and James Oliphant; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)