Biden builds early lead in battleground states

Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading in key battleground states that President Trump must win to secure a second term in office.

Polls released this week have mostly bad news for Trump, who finds himself trailing in new surveys of Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The president won all three states in 2016 and they will be among the most hotly contested battlegrounds in November.

Biden is benefiting from having a higher favorability rating as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The former vice president has built a lead among seniors in Florida, who broke for Trump in the past election.

He is also running up the score among blacks, Latinos, women and white people with college degrees, leaving Trump, at least at the moment, with a narrow path to reelection that depends heavily on non-college educated middle-aged white people.

“Trump has always had a ceiling, and he’s at or below that ceiling now because any temporary rally-around-the-flag bump he got has evaporated and did not translate into new votes,” said Democratic strategist Addisu Demissie, who served as Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential campaign manager.

“We can’t forget, there are a lot of non-college educated middle-aged whites in some of these battlegrounds, and Trump is winning by healthy margins here, so it’s good to be circumspect. At the same time, Trump’s path to victory looks very narrow, just as it was in 2016. I think the range of outcomes here is something between Biden winning in a blowout and Trump winning a very close election.”

Biden has led in most polls this cycle in Michigan and Pennsylvania, but his move to the front in Florida is new.

The latest polls come even as Biden has largely faded into the background because of the pandemic.

The former vice president has done scattered cable news interviews or spoken with reporters from local news outlets in battleground states. But he has otherwise kept a low profile, conducting virtual fundraisers or talking to people who have endorsed him on his podcast.

Trump, meanwhile, has been orchestrating hours-long nationally televised press conferences from the White House every day.

The dual health and financial crises, coupled with the public’s growing lack of trust in the president’s response, appear to be dragging down his reelection prospects.

Republicans interviewed by The Hill expressed confidence, saying that voters are not thinking about the November election right now, but rather about their immediate health and financial situations.

There is no real campaigning going on — just a daily, intensive focus on Trump’s response to the coronavirus. Republicans expect that will change and polls will shift in Trump’s favor as the campaign heats up and Biden faces more intense scrutiny.

“Trump’s job approval is holding up and these battlegrounds are still close,” said a Republican operative close to the campaign.

“Voters aren’t looking at this right now as a binary choice between Trump and Biden, they’re thinking about the crises. Once Biden is forced out of his basement bunker and people start seeing more of him, they’ll realize that he’s not capable of leading the country.”

The latest Quinnipiac University survey of Florida found Biden leading Trump 46 percent to 42 percent. Biden leads by 10 points among Florida voters over the age of 65. Trump carried those same voters by 17 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

A Fox News survey of Pennsylvania found Biden ahead by 8 points, 50 percent to 42 percent. The president leads by 18 points among rural whites and by 15 points among whites without a college education. But Biden has an 18-point advantage in overall favorability and he leads by an astonishing 30 points among suburban women.

A Fox News poll of Michigan found Biden leading 49 percent to 41 percent, with Trump once again trailing by 18 points in favorability. In 2016, Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes in a contest against a far less popular candidate. That year, Trump was underwater on favorability by 20 points, while Clinton was negative by 14 points.

A lot can change in the next six months, particularly with big questions hanging about whether the health crisis will have subsided and whether the economy can bounce back.

For now, pessimism about the economy and growing economic anxiety have creeped into voter sentiment, dragging Trump down.

After initially getting a bump in job approval rating in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, Trump’s job approval has receded back toward the middle range of where he has been for most of his presidency. The RealClearPolitics average puts Trump’s job approval at 46 percent, a few points off its high and few points off its low.

And a majority of voters in the swing state polls say they trust their governors more than they trust Trump to deal with the coronavirus. Michigan and Pennsylvania have Democratic governors, while Florida is led by a Republican.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, 65 percent of voters say they approve of the job Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has done on the coronavirus, compared to only 47 percent who said the same about Trump.

Those numbers underscore the degree to which the president’s response to the coronavirus has been mixed.

The U.S. is well behind on testing, which will be critical to reopen the economy. Republicans also view Trump’s tweets about “liberating” states run by Democrats in support of protests demanding their governors reopen their economies as needlessly divisive.

Still, Democrats acknowledge that they can’t compete with Trump’s bully pulpit and the free airtime he gets every day from the White House. At the same time, the president is taking credit for the trillions of dollars in coronavirus stimulus passed by Congress, which includes a loan program intended to help small businesses that was hamstrung by early troubles.  

Regardless, Democrats say they’re not reading too much into the polls at this early date and say they’ll only rest easy when all the ballots have been counted.

“I don’t care what the polls say,” said one Democrat who has raised money for Biden. “Just because a poll says you’ll win, that doesn’t mean anything. Ask Hillary Clinton about the polls. Anyone who thinks Biden has this locked up is crazy.”

Tags 2020 presidential election Biden campaign Cory Booker Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden White House
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