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The Memo: Biden landslide creeps into view

A landslide victory for Joe BidenJoe BidenMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Facebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP MORE is now a realistic possibility.

The Democratic presidential nominee has a lead of around 10 percentage points over President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE in national polling averages, and he is up across almost all the battleground states.

Trump faces low job approval ratings, bad marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and an ever-decreasing number of opportunities to change the direction of the race.

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The first debate has come and gone, and the second scheduled clash has been canceled. Only one more debate, set for Oct. 22, remains.

No challenger to an incumbent president since Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhy the Senate should not rush an impeachment trial Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils vaccine plan with focus on mass inoculations | Worldwide coronavirus deaths pass 2 million | CDC: New variant could be dominant US strain by March MORE almost 30 years ago has been in such a strong position as Biden with such a short period of time until Election Day.

Still, even Democrats are reluctant to talk out loud about a Biden landslide for fear of jinxing a monumental election or encouraging complacency. Many pundits are also hedging their bets, mindful of the 2016 experience.

The national polls four years ago were — contrary to public perception — not far off the eventual result. But state-level polls, especially in the Rust Belt and the Midwest, went seriously awry.

Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFor Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team Millennials and the great reckoning on race Biden chooses Amanda Gorman as youngest known inaugural poet MORE went into Election Day ahead in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by 3.4 points, 1.9 points and 6.5 points respectively in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling averages. Trump carried all three states.

Trump aide Corey LewandowskiCorey LewandowskiSunday shows preview: Riots roil Washington as calls for Trump's removal grow Trump's refusal to concede sows confusion among staff Trump selects Hicks, Bondi, Grenell and other allies for positions MORE — the president’s first campaign manager in the 2016 cycle, now back on board for the 2020 effort — contended that the polls that year and the media’s coverage of them had amounted to “enormous misinformation.”

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In a conference call with reporters Monday morning, Lewandowski said, “Our internal numbers — and we are very confident of where our numbers are — continue to show a very different story” from the public polls.

Still, Biden’s lead in some key battlegrounds is greater than Clinton’s was four years ago. He is about 7 points ahead in the RCP averages in both Michigan and Pennsylvania. He is almost 4 points up in Florida. New polls on Monday from the New York Times-Siena College put Biden ahead by 10 points in Wisconsin and 8 points in Michigan. 

Caution is still the watchword for many experts who acknowledge that the president cannot be counted out. But the flip side — a Biden victory by a thumping margin — is also well within the realms of possibility.

“Neither of the outcomes that looks a bit of a reach right now is out of the question,” said Steve Kornacki, national political correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. “We are always fighting the last war where everybody remembers the surprise of 2016. But if you apply that and think — as I think we should — that Trump could win this thing, you have to entertain the other possibility: that Joe Biden could win an emphatic victory.”

Among Democrats, there is acute fear that Trump could pull a surprise for any number of reasons, ranging from voter suppression or intimidation to less mendacious explanations like an unexpectedly high turnout from his supporters.

Biden “is in a very strong position, there is no question about that,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who is also a columnist for The Hill. But Mellman added, referring to Trump’s perceived chances of victory, “I have spent most of the last four years trying to remind people that 25 percent events really happen once every four times, and 15 percent chances really do happen about 15 percent of the time.”

Data site FiveThirtyEight gave Trump just a 13 percent chance of prevailing in November as of Monday evening. By contrast, it assessed the chances of Biden winning an Electoral College margin of more than 100 electoral votes at greater than 60 percent.

The Trump campaign highlights a number of factors as to why assessments like that are wrong. They express general skepticism of the polls, especially surveys that do not provide the party identification of respondents or crosstabs with specific demographic information.

They also suggest that some of the voters who will back the president are not being picked up properly by pollsters, perhaps because they are newly registered or are less inclined to declare their support.

Trump’s campaign manager, Bill StepienBill StepienTrump's refusal to concede sows confusion among staff Biden to campaign in Georgia for Democrats in Senate runoffs Trump campaign, RNC announce 0 million post-election fundraising haul MORE, has noted how heavily the president’s 2016 victory rested on rolling up huge margins in the least populous counties of key swing states.

GOP pollster David Winston said that, even with Election Day so close at hand, it is important to be circumspect given the overall political landscape.

“In terms of COVID, the economy with things shut down, and the social unrest, there is a very volatile environment,” Winston noted.

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Winston also took issue with the description of Biden as the “favorite” to win the election, noting that polls are snapshots of one moment of time, not a predictor of what could happen three weeks later.

“Biden at this point has the clear advantage, but that is different from the ‘favorite.’ You have one more debate. There are other things that can occur,” he said.

But with just three weeks to go, time is running out for Trump.

The president’s main hope, for now, is that the polls are wrong.

If, instead, they are accurate — or even underestimating Democratic support, as was the case in 2012 — Trump is on course for a crushing defeat.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.