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GOP to Trump: Focus on policy

Republicans are urging President TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE to focus on policy — not personality fights — in the final two weeks before the election. 

As the president and several key incumbents trail in the polls, GOP senators are urging him to dial down the personal attacks and focus on his agenda in a last-ditch attempt to appeal to swing voters by emphasizing the policy differences between a potential Trump second term and a Biden administration.

Their pleas come ahead of a final debate between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE this week and as the president has appeared eager to home in on Biden’s son Hunter Biden, a move some GOP senators and strategists warn could backfire.

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Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunAll congressional Democrats say they have been vaccinated: CNN Let America's farmers grow climate solutions GOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending MORE (R-Ind.), asked if Trump had talked enough about policy and his agenda, said “I would hope that he would do that,” pointing to areas like the economy that he believes would be ripe for Trump.

“I think there’s a lot of room to do that. ... Hopefully, we’ll see that on Thursday, because I think there’s a lot you could talk about in terms of what’s been accomplished,” Braun said. “I would hope that he would do that.” 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats GOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Senate GOP dismayed by vote to boot Cheney MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, argued that while Trump lets himself be pulled into personality fights, talking about policy could help sway undecided voters.

“There is so much there, there is so much contrast. ... He’s given the base lots of red meat, so they are, I think, sufficiently motivated. I think that you have to prosecute the case against the Democrats to win those people over in the middle that are going to decide this election,” Thune said.

The advice comes as Biden has led Trump both in national polls and in several swing states critical to the race. 

Biden leads Trump by an average of 10 percentage points in national polls, according to FiveThirtyEight. He’s also leading in the RealClearPolitics polling average of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida — which were all won by Trump in 2016.

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Republicans worry a Trump loss could bring down the Senate GOP majority. Republican incumbents trail their Democratic opponents in key races, while several GOP senators also find themselves in closer-than-expected contests in the traditionally red states of Alaska, Kansas and South Carolina.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (R-Texas) said he believed the election had turned into a personality contest. Republicans have long warned that the election being a referendum on Trump would be disastrous for their party, with the president’s approval rating routinely stuck in the low 40s. 

“I regret — I think if it were a contest of what policies are better to help the economy and help restore our jobs, I think the president would be winning supermajorities, but unfortunately it’s been more of a personality contest,” Cornyn said.

Asked if he thought Trump could still turn the race in a more policy-focused direction, he added: “Every day that goes by it gets harder.”

Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate for the second and final time on Thursday, with “Fighting COVID-19,” “American Families,” “Race in America,” “Climate Change,” “National Security” and “Leadership” as the selected topics.

The first debate between Trump and Biden last month was marked by a chaotic atmosphere of crosstalk, personal insults and Trump, at times, sparring with moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceCheney: I can't ignore Trump because he 'continues to be a real danger' CDC director denies political pressure affected new mask guidelines Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' MORE. The off-the-wheels nature frustrated GOP senators, who are hoping for a significantly different event this week.

Trump is also doing a slew of campaign events and interviews in the final stretch, leaving Republicans worried he will go off-message again and again. 

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats On The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push Grassley criticizes Biden's proposal to provide IRS with B MORE (R-Iowa) tweeted at Trump that he should carry around a notecard that included five things that he’s accomplished, what makes him different from Biden and what he will do in a second term.

“Focusing on these simple highlights will help ur msg & only take 5mins then say whatever u want,” Grassley added in the tweet.

Trump has frustrated Senate Republicans by wading into public fights with not only his political enemies but also members of his own administration.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMissouri Republicans move to block Greitens in key Senate race On The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week MORE (R-Mo.), while attributing the lack of policy in the first debate to both sides, noted that Senate Republicans “have always thought the president should talk more about what he has done and what he’s going to do” rather than “respond to whatever topic comes up.”

Just this week Trump lashed out at Anthony FauciAnthony FauciSchools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning Fauci: Coronavirus pandemic showed 'undeniable effects of racism in our society' Fauci: Vaccinated people become 'dead ends' for the coronavirus MORE, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, sparking pushback from senior members of the Senate Republican caucus and putting a break between GOP senators and the leader of their party back under the spotlight.

But Republicans believe that by focusing on policy and his agenda, Trump could shore up support among swing voters, which could pay dividends for GOP senators in tough races.

“I would do that because there are so few people who have not made up their mind; many of them might rest on what do you intend to do,” Braun said.

Thune added that the goal for Trump’s campaign “between now and the election is to win over those people who in the end are going to be the deciding votes in this election.”

Trump’s campaign has signaled that it wants to raise Hunter Biden during Thursday night’s debate, including his business dealings in China, to argue that the former vice president is “compromised.” 

GOP senators said while they expected Trump to bring up the issue, they also warned that it had a risk of backfiring if it makes people sympathetic toward the Bidens.

“I’m sure he will,” Thune said about raising Hunter Biden. “But you know, you got to be careful with that, because I think in some ways if you overplay that hand there’s a certain sympathy that people have.”