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The Memo: Biden stays slow and steady in face of criticism
Joe Biden is taking a slow and steady path toward the White House - and so far it seems to be working.
Biden comes under constant criticism from President Trump's campaign for his low-wattage public schedule. Earlier, during the Democratic primary battle, left-wing critics contended he was uninspiring. In media circles, Biden's center-left politics and old-school approach often get met with a collective shoulder-shrug.
Yet, for all that, the 77-year-old former vice president is on the cusp of what would be the ultimate validation. He is a significant distance ahead of Trump in national polls and has an edge in almost all the battleground states with just two weeks left until Election Day.
The jabs from the Trump campaign keep coming.
On a Monday conference call with reporters, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller accused Biden of "going into hiding" to avoid awkward questions. On Monday, Biden's only engagement outside his home was to sit for an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," set to be broadcast this weekend.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien insisted that the president would also see the dividends from a strong "ground game" on the part of his campaign, including volunteers going door-to-door.
Biden, Stepien insisted, was lacking in this regard whereas "we're actually running a real campaign."
But most Democrats feel there is no way to argue with success. And, if the polls are right, Biden is well on his way to ousting Trump.
There is solid reasoning behind Biden's approach, as far as most Democrats are concerned.
Trump is so prone to self-damaging controversies that there is no need for Biden to force his way to center stage, they say. The tumult of the Trump presidency has left many voters hankering after a calmer, more low-key president.
"Their strategy has been working. But the other part is that Joe Biden's greatest asset is Donald Trump," said Jerry Austin, an Ohio-based Democratic strategist. "For months now, he has let Donald Trump be Donald Trump and that has been to Biden's advantage."
Trump appeared to prove that point again on Monday when he caused a fresh furor by verbally attacking Anthony Fauci, both on Twitter and at a rally in Prescott, Ariz.
At the first presidential debate, where Trump's performance was widely criticized as intemperate and rude, Biden seldom rose to the bait - and saw his poll lead edge up to new highs in the aftermath.
Biden will be hoping to repeat that easy-does-it strategy on Thursday night, when the candidates meet for their second and final encounter in Nashville, Tenn. The debate may be Trump's last chance to change the arc of the race.
For all of that though, there are some Democrats who express concern about Biden's approach.
They tend to do so only anonymously, reluctant to go on record criticizing their party's nominee when he could be president-elect two weeks from now.
The skeptics' concern is that Biden has not done enough to make a positive case for his candidacy. They also say he has been a bit too cautious about hitting the road for events.
In their view, the polls might look good - but the same was true four years ago, only for then-candidate Trump to pull a stunning upset over Hillary Clinton on Election Day.
"Who says we're winning? The polls? Give me a break," said one Democratic strategist. "We've been through this before. He needs to be out there more. You can't play it too safe right now. Taking anything for granted right now is a surefire way to lose."
Team Biden pushes back hard on the idea that there is any complacency.
In a memo sent to supporters over the weekend, Biden campaign manager Jennifer O'Malley Dillon wrote: "This race is far closer than some of the punditry we're seeing on Twitter and on TV would suggest. In the key battleground states where this election will be decided, we remain neck and neck with Donald Trump."
Other Democrats argue that it is unfair to judge Biden only by his presence, or absence, from the campaign trail. The coronavirus pandemic means many voters can be best reached at home.
Biden has been outspending Trump significantly on the airwaves. A recent analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project found that Biden outspent Trump by $56 million to $32 million on TV advertising in the first two weeks of October.
Paul Maslin, a Democratic strategist based in Wisconsin said: "The real difference I see here is that [Biden's] level of spending on communication is extraordinary. They are absolutely blitzing Trump in these crucial states, and have been for weeks now."
The Biden strategy rests on Trump. And so far, that seems to be just fine.
"It sure looks to me that at this point in time, people are looking for the anti-Trump," said Jim Manley, a former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "They want calm and they want their normalcy back. They are sick and tired of this whole circus."
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency. Jonathan Easley contributed reporting.