Biden leads by 10 points nationally, defends lead against Trump’s ‘law-and-order’ attack following US protests
The US presidential campaign has been may have been silenced by the coronavirus pandemic, but not for much longer. After Labour Day, the US presidential race will enter a new public phase, as Joe Biden defends his polling lead against a fierce attack by President Trump aimed primarily at white voters in the Midwest.
Private polls conducted for both parties during and after their August conventions found the race fairly stable but tightening in some states, with Trump recovering some support from conservative-leaning rural voters who had drifted away over the summer during the pandemic.
But Biden has advantages with nearly every other group, especially in areas where Covid-19 remains at the forefront for voters, according to people briefed on the data.
It is the first time since 1992 that a president has entered Labour Day weekend (the traditional kickoff for the fall campaign) as such a clear underdog. Trump has not led in public polls in must-win states such as Florida since Biden claimed the nomination in April.
But the president’s surprise win in 2016 is still in the minds of Democrats and Republicans alike.
Trump has a thin path to re-election
The president’s effort to bring life back to his candidacy by blaming Biden’s party for looting and arson in US cities has pushed Biden into being more proactive. The former vice president spent last week pushing back against Trump’s often false claims.
Both parties see Trump with a thin path to re-election that runs through heavily white states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, where his strategy of racial division could help him catch up to Biden. Yet Trump is also on defence in diverse Southern and Western states he carried in 2016 – including Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia.
Two Republican former governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin said Biden had entered the fall with slight advantages in their states but the race could easily turn.
“Can Trump win back some of those voters in the second and third ring of suburbs?” said Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, noting that those areas had trended toward Democrats. “They’re really unsettled by the violence, but the question is if it’s enough to reverse recent voting patterns.”
Scott Walker of Wisconsin said Trump’s hopes in Wisconsin increasingly hung on the three presidential debates, which will “have an impact if it worries voters about Biden.”
Trump’s biggest challenge
Trump’s biggest challenge has been his unwillingness to drive a focused political message. Instead, he becomes involved in less favourable debates, like his ongoing tirade against a report that he belittled American service members. He is also facing a significant financial crunch and has largely ceased advertising on TV even as Joe Biden begins to spend heavily from his war chest after raising around $365 million in August.
The former vice president is airing tens of millions of dollars in ads disproving President Trump’s law-and-order themed attacks, though some in his campaigners are hoping to turn the focus back to the pandemic and the economy.
Biden is set to visit Pennsylvania on Monday and Michigan on Wednesday, his third and fourth trips to critical swing states since last week when he travelled to Pittsburg for a speech refuting Trump’s attacks and then to Wisconsin to meet the family of Jacob Blake – a black man shot seven times in the back, by a white police officer.
Morgan Jackson who advises the Democratic governor of North Carolina said his surveys after the conventions indicated Biden had a steady but modest advantage in the state and the small number of swing voters were chiefly concerned about the pandemic.
“Charlotte is not burning,” Mr Jackson said. “That’s a conversation taking place on Fox News but nowhere in reality here.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said Biden had so far struck the right chord for a Midwestern audience.
“Joe Biden’s words in Pittsburgh — that he both supports police reform and condemns lawless looting — were exactly what people needed to hear in Minnesota and across the country,” she said.
Many Democrats in battleground states want to see Biden in person. Representative Mark Pocan, a Wisconson Democrat, said he had “been promised Biden several more time” after the Jenosha trip. He said Republican attacks on Biden’s limited travel had penetrated with some voters.
“I’ve heard some people who don’t live and breathe politics saying, ‘Oh, looks like Democrats aren’t going to come out again,’” he said.
Still, the possibility of a knockout in the Sun Belt region is enticing to Democrats, particularly as surveys from both parties continue to show Trump at-risk in red-tinted states like Georgia.
Sam Park, a Georgia Democratic state legislator said “If folks in Georgia turn out, Georgia turns blue,” adding “and we see that opportunity, particularly given how diverse this state is.”
Democrats in several states have said Biden’s team is figuring out how to deploy campaign organisers in the field whilst in the middle of a health crisis. One idea being discussed is to send canvassers on door-drop assignments, delivering pamphlets but not engaging in long conversations. Trump’s campaign has been making door-to-door trips for some time, despite the pandemic.
The president’s campaign is expected to see an increase in TV spending next week, but several Republicans have said that Bill Stepien – Trump’s campaign manager since July – was taking a cautious approach after the former leadership spent huge sums on TV and digital ads earlier this year, to no discernible effect. The lack of TV spending and advertising blackouts in some key states has raised questions about how much cash the campaign has in the bank.
In a brief interview, Mr Stephen said a surgical approach to TV ads was the right move, for now, focusing on states where early and absentee voting are starting.
“We should not be applying a 2004 media strategy to a 2020 campaign,” Mr Stephen said, stressing the unique circumstances of the current race.
Trump’s best chance at this point, according to Republicans, is to drive a singular message linking Joe Biden to the far left.
“He has to continue focusing on the network of anti-American lawlessness,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said of Mr Trump, urging him to “emphasize American patriotism and history versus the left’s anti-Americanism” and to “turn Biden into McGovern.”
Whilst Trump’s swerve towards a strident law-and-order message has helped him consolidate conservative support, his rhetoric about rioting in a few cities does not appear to have swayed moderates, strategists in both parties said.
Not swaying the moderates is a serious problem for the president, given the lack of significant third-party candidates in 2020, which raises pressure on Trump to win over new voters.
Trump favourable on economic issues – but some still plan to vote for Biden
In his campaign data, Trump is leading Biden on the issue of the economy – although one senior official said the president has been cautioned not to take too much encouragement from that; some Democratic and independent voters see Trump as being strong on the issue they still plan to vote for Biden, the official said.
According to a Republican strategist, who has been researching suburban voters, the pandemic is the central concern.
“The virus is still the most important issue for voters,” Ms Hickey said. “Their lives are still disrupted. Schools are closed; businesses are closed.”
Allies of Trump believe there is no chance that he can win the popular vote and they have seen some states he won in 2016 move away from them. Michigan, which Trump narrowly won four years ago, is not looking hopeful for the president this time around.
Nevada – a state with many white voters without college degrees – is a state Trump is hoping to flip. And Minnesota, the state he lost by the closest margin in 2016 and the site of the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd.
“There is no question that Joe Biden has to earn Minnesotans’ votes, that he has to explain why the chaos of today is going to be replaced with the calm he is proposing,” said Representative Dean Phillips, a Democrat who in 2018 captured a historically Republican seat in the suburbs.
As Trump attempts to win over states that were once reliably blue, he is at-risk in traditionally red-tinted states that have been hit hard by the pandemic. A Trump strategy that is aimed at driving racial polarisation in the Midwest could backfire in more diverse states in the South and West.
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