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Team Biden's new strategy: Run out the clock

Call it the don’t-touch-anything strategy.

Team Biden knows they’re ahead against President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE, with national polls showing Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus MORE above the 50 percent mark. And with under three weeks to go until Election Day, the campaign has been doing just enough to keep things where they are as the clock ticks down to Nov. 3.

“They don’t want to break anything in the last three weeks,” said one Democratic strategist. “If the election were held today, they would win. They know it, and more importantly, Trump knows it.” 

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“To put it simply, they’re winning,” the strategist added. “And they don’t need to do much. They need to firm up their support and call it a game.”

In recent weeks, Biden has been traveling more than he had earlier in the pandemic — making short trips to key battleground states as he did on Tuesday when he traveled to Florida — but his campaign has usually limited events to one speech a day. Those speeches are largely the same and his campaign has all but avoided long-ranging, sit-down national interviews where he could be asked a prickly question. And last week, when Biden got into a political standoff with Trump over the format of the second debate, it was Biden’s team that said take it or leave it. 

Chris Lehane, a Democratic presidential campaign veteran, said that “while Team Biden is indeed milking the clock, importantly they are not sitting on the ball but looking to score when there is an open shot.”

“And given the other team does not really seem to have an especially fulsome defense, there are a lot of open layups,” he added.

A string of recent polls show Biden well ahead of Trump nationally and in key battleground states. An ABC News-Washington Post poll released on Sunday showed Biden up 55 percent to 43 percent over Trump among likely voters. Other surveys from CNN-SSRS and Fox News also found Trump trailing Biden by at least 10 points, with the former vice president above 50 percent support.

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No other recent presidential challenger has maintained such a lead against an incumbent with less than a month to go before the election.

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said the Biden campaign is “smartly picking their spots” in the final stretch because they can.

“Like they did in the primary, you don’t have to weigh in on everything, or respond to every Trump campaign accusation,” Vale said.

He pointed to a speech Biden gave last week in Gettysburg, Pa., where the Democratic nominee sought to heal a divided nation and never mentioned Trump by name, letting the president’s actions “speak for themselves.”

During the tiff over the debates last week, it was Biden who ultimately came out the winner after he refused to budge to Trump’s proposal of adding another debate to the schedule. Trump refused to participate in the debate scheduled for this week because the format was shifted from in-person to virtual due to coronavirus concerns.

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“The time left in the race to persuade and win over new voters is rapidly evaporating for both candidates,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “I know the Biden team has no concerns about their candidate in a debate format but they also have the luxury of being able to run out the clock on Donald Trump.”

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said typically challengers have taken a more aggressive stance in the final days.

“In this case it’s a little different,” Zelizer said. “I think the Biden campaign is letting Trump be Trump. There is nothing Biden can do or say that will equal the negative impact Trump has when he opens his mouth or starts tweeting, so it’s strategic silence banking on the assumption the polls are accurate.”

Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, added that “Trump has done more to cast a negative light on his leadership in the last two weeks than Joe Biden could have ever done.”

“We’re at a time when voters will focus less on Biden and more on an anyone-but-Trump mantra, which is fine,” Smikle said. “In these last few weeks, Biden need only remind everyone to make a plan to vote and assuage concerns about voter suppression.”

At the same time, Biden allies say they are not taking anything for granted, pointing to the increased travel schedule taken on not just by Biden and his wife Jill Biden, but by running mate Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Watch live: Biden participates in HBCU homecoming Jennifer Aniston: 'It's not funny to vote for Kanye' MORE (D-Calif.) and her husband Doug Emhoff.

“We’re up ahead, sure, but now isn’t the time for complacency,” said one longtime Biden ally. “It’s why you’re seeing us all traveling the country, making sure everyone is voting, because a lot can go wrong.”

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” the ally added.