Campaign

Joe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country

Joe Biden's campaign is inching into Trump country, putting money behind new ads in Iowa and Georgia as it seeks to expand the battleground map and lift Democratic candidates in the battle for the Senate.

The Biden campaign has been raking in money, building up an astonishing $140 million advantage in cash on hand over the Trump campaign for the homestretch to Nov. 3.

Biden leads comfortably in the national polls and in most of the battleground states, giving him flexibility to go on offense in states the president won easily in 2016, such as Iowa and Ohio, or in traditionally red states, like Georgia and Texas.

"Biden enjoys a major cash advantage and it's strategically smart to expand and press the money advantage, especially if, in time, it forces Trump to play more defense," said Michael Halle, who helped run 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's battleground states operation. "The key is Biden has the ability to fully resource likely tipping point states and expand, while Trump does not."

Biden's campaign has largely played it safe so far. The candidate has only visited the core battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, or states he's expected to win, such as Minnesota.

The bulk of the campaign's advertising has been concentrated narrowly on six swing states.

The Biden campaign announced Monday it would go up with a new round of ads in Iowa and Georgia, two states President Trump must carry to have a path back to the White House. There are competitive Senate races in both states.

Trump, meanwhile, held events Monday in Ohio, where his campaign has spent heavily on the airwaves. Most Democrats didn't think Ohio was in play at the beginning of the cycle, underscoring the degree to which the president is on defense in the final weeks before the election.

"It's indicative of a difficult environment for President Trump," said Mark Nevins, a veteran Democratic operative based in Philadelphia. "He's facing tough questions on his decisions about COVID, the economy, his character and fitness to lead, so the Biden campaign is going to make the Trump campaign make their own tough decisions about where to spend their resources outside of the expected map."

The effort to expand the map comes with some risk.

Many analysts believe that rebuilding the so-called blue wall in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania represents Biden's likeliest path to the White House. Polls also show Biden leading or running close to Trump in other core battlegrounds of Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

Resources spent on states that fall outside those six battlegrounds will be the focus of scrutiny if Biden loses a close election in one or two swing states.

Clinton's failure to visit Wisconsin in 2016 is ever-present on the minds of Democrats.

"[Campaigns] can always do more, but I feel like some of this is shellshock from 2016," said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic operative in Detroit. "Not saying [Biden's] doing everything right, but the investment and level of effort seem correct, especially given the circumstances."

In Georgia, the Biden campaign is up with a new 60-second ad featuring Black men in a barbershop talking about Biden's plan for ending cash bail and private prisons, and the difficulties of talking with their children about police interactions. A 30-second ad focuses on Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) being the first woman of color on a major party ticket.

Democrats in Georgia are ecstatic to see the Biden campaign pushing in, although the extent of the ad buy isn't known yet and the candidate doesn't have any planned visits there.

"These are two of the more effective messages we've seen this cycle because the stories of people who come into contact with law enforcement is such a hot topic on the minds of both Black and white Americans," said Howard Franklin, a veteran Democratic campaigns operative based out of Atlanta.

"Joe Biden deserves credit for being a meaningful participant in this conversation. There's the question out there about whether he'll be campaigning physically or how forcefully he'll campaign down the stretch, but this message gives me confidence his heart is in the right place and they can prosecute the case digitally or over the airwaves."

Republicans view Georgia as fool's gold for Biden. Trump won there by 5 points in 2016 but it hasn't gone for a Democratic candidate since 1992.

"Not happening, not this year," said Seth Weathers, who was Trump's Georgia state director in 2016. "I think Biden's ads are more about fundraising or trying to make them look competitive in red states, which they're not."

Trump won Iowa by an even greater margin, 9 points, although Biden is polling strong across the Midwest and the Hawkeye State went for President Obama in 2012.

Democrats interviewed by The Hill had been more enthusiastic about their chances in Ohio, where the Trump campaign is digging in to defend a state the president carried by 8 points in the last election.

Trump held two events in Ohio on Monday and the campaign is investing heavily in the airwaves.

The president has also been aggressive in campaigning in states Clinton won in 2016 with trips to Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada and Maine.

Biden's move into Georgia and Iowa this week appears to show the Democratic nominee putting an emphasis on states where he can help Democrats win the Senate.

Biden told Senate Democrats last week he'd be dipping into his pockets to help them out so that if he's elected president, he'll potentially have a Democratic Senate and House to work with.

"Every time Biden puts ads up where we can also take back a U.S. Senate seat is also when a Democratic angel gets their wings," said Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo.

Polls show Sens. David Perdue (R) and Kelly Loeffler (R) face tough reelection bids in Georgia. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) is also looking to fend off a serious challenge from Democrat Theresa Greenfield in Iowa.

"The more they spend defending seats like Ernst and Perdue that should be safe, the tougher the choices get in places like Arizona, North Carolina and Colorado," said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.

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