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Biden faces new hurdle: Winning as front-runner

Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE is suddenly a clear favorite in the general election battle against President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE given rising poll numbers nationally and in key swing states, meaning he must now figure out how to run as a front-runner.

It’s no easy task, especially against an opponent in Trump who is comfortable running as an underdog and who has the presidential bully pulpit and a healthy campaign war chest to throw at his opponent. 

“If the election were held tomorrow, it would be a bloodbath. But there are about 150 tomorrows left,” said Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJuan Williams: The real 'Deep State' is pro-Trump Rep. John Katko: Why I became the first Republican lawmaker to support impeachment Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? MORE, who knows what it’s like to be on the losing side when you’re a favorite against Trump. 

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The quandary for Biden and Democrats is how to win while ahead and retain the momentum Biden has won over the last few months — momentum that has come more from Trump’s own problems and news events than actions by Biden. 

Friday's positive jobs report underscored how there are twists and turns to come in the presidential race, and the White House immediately touted the strong numbers as an argument for why the country should stick with Trump. 

“The great American comeback is underway after the economy was artificially interrupted by the global pandemic,” Brad ParscaleBrad ParscaleAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report MORE, Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement on Friday while blaming Democrats for keeping the economy from reopening. The jobless number fell to 13.3 percent in May from 14.7 percent in April, a surprise turnaround since most expected the number to rise.

Democrats warn Biden can’t afford to just run out the clock without punching back against Trump. At the same time, they know they also must offer their own proposals on issues including the economy — especially since Trump will be on the attack against Biden.

“A prisoner circles their release date, keeps their head down and nose clean, X’s off each day. A campaign can’t,” Reines said. “Especially against an opponent who’s essentially a masochistic prison guard taunting them, baiting them, beating them.” 

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William Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution who served as a domestic policy adviser to Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe challenge of Biden's first days: staying focused and on message Why the Senate should not rush an impeachment trial Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE during his administration, said Biden needs to do more of what he did this week in Philadelphia when he spoke about systemic racism and police brutality.  

“On the overall strategic issues front, he needs to meet the moment without losing his balance,” Galston said, adding that Biden should “lean sensibly toward the pieces of the progressive agenda that make sense” politically and fiscally particularly on economic and social justice issues. 

When it comes to tussling with Trump, Galston said he would “attack him when he does something egregiously wrong” while giving the public the space to make up their minds. 

“What you can control is what people think you’re going to do that’s different and better,” Galston said. “If you can give people an affirmative reason to vote for you in addition to the reasons against the other guy, why not?” 

Democrats say Biden needs to continue to show the contrast between himself and Trump, as he has sought to dover Trump’s handling of demonstrations protesting the system that led to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the street, placing his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. 

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Democrats say Trump has done damage to his path to reelection with his actions this week, which included the forcible removal of protesters in Lafayette Square so that the president could exit the White House to pose with a Bible in front of a nearby church. 

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll out on Friday showed that two-thirds of Americans say Trump has increased racial tensions in the country.

A CNN poll out on Friday also showed Biden ahead of Trump 51 percent to 42 percent. The poll showed a shift towards Biden since the last poll in April when the former vice president received 48 percent of support compared to Trump with 43 percent. 

“I’m beginning to think that if Trump’s advisers were smart, they’d put him in that White House bunker just to keep him out of the public eye,” said former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelBiden faces monumental task healing divided country The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? Democrats need a post-Trump message MORE (D-N.Y.), who also served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The more he’s out there, the more his numbers drop. 

“We’re seeing in real time that the contrast between Biden’s leadership and Trump’s flailing is on full display,” Israel said. “So Biden has to continue demonstrating that contrast by doing exactly what he’s doing now: using his schedule strategically to connect to voters, conveying his empathy, messaging on Trump’s failures, and letting Donald Trump speak for himself.” 

Nayyera Haq, a former White House senior director in the Obama White House who also served on the former president’s 2012 campaign, said the moment facing the country — with the coronavirus coupled with the civil unrest— is perfectly suited to Biden.

“It’s rare to have both a national security crisis and a domestic crisis at the same time but both uniquely play to his strengths,” Haq said. “He has the ability to express empathy like no one else. 

Asked what Biden should do to win the election, Haq replied, “Honestly, be Joe. 

“Be empathetic, speak from the heart, talk about loss and challenge,” she said. “He does all of those things so well.”