Biden seeks to close any path for Trump win in race’s final days

It’s one week before Election Day in what both parties say is the most consequential presidential contest in decades, and one taking place against the backdrop of a historic pandemic the likes of which the nation has not seen in more than a century.

Voters will go to polls a week from Tuesday to cast ballots in the race between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, though tens of millions have already done so because of the coronavirus. 

The majorities in the House and Senate will also be up for grabs, with Democrats favored to keep their House majority and having a decent chance of gaining the majority in the Senate as well. 

The president and his campaign see a path to victory that resembles his surprise 2016 win, but an array of factors have combined to make it a more challenging climb to 270 electoral votes.

Polls released last week showed Biden leading in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. There does not appear to be meaningful support for a third-party candidate in those states, where Trump won by narrow margins four years ago.

Trump has struggled to drive down the former vice president’s favorability ratings with his recent focus on Hunter Biden’s business dealings. Vulnerable Republicans are mired in tough races that could flip control of the Senate, and House Democrats could add to their majority despite Trump’s promises of a “red wave.”

“Too many people keep comparing it to 2016, and it’s just not comparable in any way,” said Lara Brown, director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and an opinion contributor to The Hill.

“And it’s not comparable because this is an incumbent referendum,” she continued. “When you dig into the polls, people are voting either for or against Trump, and that is sort of the central dynamic that is pushing this race.”

The president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the campaign. Biden has made it a central theme of his closing argument, arguing in Thursday’s debate that no president who oversaw the deaths of 220,000 Americans is deserving of reelection.

Trump finds himself on defense and grasping for a convincing argument against Biden. He has turned to attacking the foreign business dealings of Biden’s son in an attempt to portray the former vice president and his family as creatures of Washington, D.C.

The president’s campaign believes it still has a chance to flip Minnesota and Nevada, but Trump’s travel schedule reflects a less ambitious electoral map. He spent the weekend in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and New Hampshire. He has been to Florida and North Carolina three times each in the last two weeks, underscoring their importance to his path to reelection.

America First Action, the main super PAC backing the president, announced it will spend $10 million on ads in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and parts of Georgia.

The Biden campaign sent former President Obama to Miami in a bid to flip Florida and shore up support with Latino voters. Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris was in Georgia on Friday, a state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 but that also features two competitive Senate races this cycle.

Polling over the last several weeks has been steady, with Biden retaining a lead in most battleground states. A Fox News poll released last week showed Biden up 5 percentage points in Wisconsin; a CNN poll released last week had Biden up 4 points in Florida; a Muhlenberg College poll in Pennsylvania released Friday showed Biden up 7 points; and a Rasmussen poll had Trump up by 1 point in North Carolina.

Trump’s low approval ratings appear to be affecting a number of Republican candidates running in down-ballot races, with Democrats seeking to tie them to the president. 

However, Democrats are wary of relying too much on the polls, eager to avoid complacency.

“They should be feeling good but not overconfident,” said Democratic strategist Basil Smikle. “The consensus among the polls says that they’re in a pretty strong position.”

“I think the votes for Biden are present in the country today. The concern that we all have today is that those votes will be cast and counted,” he added. 

Democrats appear to be gaining confidence at the down-ballot level. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicts Democrats are on track to expand their majority in the House, while Inside Elections has projected the party will gain a net of 10 to 20 seats in November. 

Earlier this year, Democrats faced a steeper climb to retaking the Senate, but Democratic challengers appear to have tipped the balance in their favor. Trump ally and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) finds himself on defense against Democrat Jaime Harrison.

Harrison said on Thursday that his record-breaking $57 million fundraising haul was responsible for shifting the race to “toss-up” status. 

In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst (R) is facing a tough battle against Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Money from outside groups has poured into the race, illustrating its importance in the upper chamber’s balance of power. The race is the second most expensive Senate race in U.S. history, according to a report from Advertising Analytics. 

Recent polls in Kansas and Montana, states Trump won handily in 2016, show close Senate races.

“I think there’s some states and opportunities that potentially people thought were gone for us or could be a rocket surprise pickup,” one Republican strategist said. “The president’s performance last night at the debate gave his Republican Senate folks a bigger sigh of relief.”

The Trump campaign still sees reasons for optimism. It reported its largest online fundraising haul of the cycle after Thursday’s debate, where the president avoided the kind of self-inflicted wounds that doomed him in the first debate.

Campaign advisers believe Biden gifted them a talking point when he said his administration would look to transition away from oil and gas, a comment they believe will buoy their chances in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.

“The president doesn’t need to change the trajectory of the race because the trajectory of the race is strongly in his favor with a massive tailwind behind him,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Friday.

But experts question whether there is enough time for the race to meaningfully change or whether there are a significant enough number of undecided voters left in an extremely polarized electorate.

The security of the election will be under intense scrutiny after 2016 and even more so after intelligence officials announced last week that Russia and Iran were involved in attempted election interference.

When Americans will know the results and whose votes will be counted will also bear watching. Republicans are still fighting in court to restrict how late absentee ballots can arrive after Election Day and still be counted, and the president has repeatedly bristled at the possibility that some states may not be able to declare a winner until after Nov. 3 as they count mail ballots.

Voters have come out in record numbers to vote early in person and by mail ahead of Election Day, with more than 50 million people casting their ballots so far, according to the U.S. Elections Project. 

Democrats have been pushing high voter turnout in an effort to avoid the low turnout that was seen in a number of critical swing states in 2016. However, Republicans could also stand to benefit from early voters and in-person voting in general. 

Trump is set to vote early on Saturday in Florida, and Vice President Pence dropped off his ballot in Indiana on Friday as part of a push to encourage Republicans to vote early. 

Tags Arizona Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Joe Biden Joni Ernst Lindsey Graham Michigan Pennsylvania presidential election Wisconsin

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