Focus on Battleground States 10/26 06:29
President Donald Trump plans to intensify an already breakneck travel
schedule in the final full week of the presidential campaign, overlooking a
surge of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and a fresh outbreak in his own White
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump plans to intensify an already
breakneck travel schedule in the final full week of the presidential campaign,
overlooking a surge of coronavirus cases in the U.S. and a fresh outbreak in
his own White House.
Trump is expected to hit nearly a dozen states in his last-ditch effort to
recover ground from Democrat Joe Biden, including Sunday's trip to Maine and
Tuesday's to Nebraska. Both states award electoral votes by congressional
district and could be crucial in a tight election. He will hold 11 rallies in
the final 48 hours alone.
Biden, too, plans to pick up his travel schedule, aiming to hit the six
battleground states the campaign sees as key to his chances, some with socially
distanced in-person events and others with virtual events. On Tuesday the
former vice president is traveling to Georgia, a state that hasn't voted for a
Democratic presidential candidate in more than a quarter-century but where
polls show a tight race.
The final week of the campaign is colliding with deepening concerns about a
public health crisis in the U.S. Trump is eager for voters to focus on almost
anything else, worried that he will lose if the election becomes a referendum
on his handling of the pandemic. Biden is working to ensure the race is just
that, hitting Trump on the virus and presenting himself as a safer, more stable
The stakes were clear this weekend as the White House became the locus for a
second outbreak of the virus in a month. Several close aides to Vice President
Mike Pence tested positive for the virus, including his chief of staff, Marc
Short. Pence, though, was insistent on maintaining his aggressive political
calendar, even though he was deemed a "close contact" of his adviser, claiming
the privileges of being an "essential employee."
The latest outbreak has served as a potent metaphor for the divergent
approaches the Trump and Biden campaigns have taken to the virus. On Sunday,
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said that "we're not going to control
the pandemic" and the focus should be on containment and treatment. Trump aims
to pack thousands of people, most without face coverings, across some of the
upper Midwestern states bearing the brunt of the surge.
"We want normal life to resume," Trump said Sunday. "We just want normal
Meadows, pressed to explain why the pandemic cannot be reined in, said,
"Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu." He told CNN's "State of
the Union" that the government was focused on getting effective therapeutics
and vaccines to market.
Biden, in a statement, said Meadows' comments continued with the Trump
administration waving "the white flag of defeat" in the face of the virus.
Biden's team argues the coronavirus is likely to blot out any other issues
that might come up in the final days of the campaign -- including Biden's
recent debate-stage comment in which he affirmed he'd transition away from oil,
later walked back as a transition away from federal subsidies. That strategy
appeared to pay off as the outbreak in Pence's staff refocused the national
conversation once again on the pandemic.
Trump and his team, meanwhile, have struggled to settle on a closing
message, with the undisciplined candidate increasingly trusting his gut over
his advisers. He's grasped for dirt on his Democratic rival and used
apocalyptic terms to describe a Biden presidency, but Biden has thus far proven
more resilient to such attacks than Trump's 2016 rival.
"You can certainly expect that (Biden) will focus on COVID as it continues
to, unfortunately, rise all across the country," Biden deputy campaign manager
Kate Bedingfield said in an interview. "It's it is disrupting people's lives
and people are looking for a leader to put in place plans to get it under
With more than a third of the expected ballots in the election already cast,
it may become increasingly challenging for Trump and Biden to reshape the
contours of the race. Biden is leading Trump in most national polls and has an
advantage, though narrower, in many key battlegrounds.
Biden is also sitting on more campaign cash than Trump and is putting it to
use, blanketing airwaves with a nearly 2-to-1 advantage over the final two
weeks. The incessant campaign ads from Biden feature a mix of his aspirational
message with stinging critiques of Trump's handling of the pandemic.
It's part of what Josh Schwerin, the senior strategist for Democratic super
PAC Priorities USA, says has helped Biden gain an advantage.
"Those dual messages -- continuing to draw a contrast with Trump, but also
offering that positive aspirational message, giving people a reason to vote for
Biden and not just against Trump -- continues to be the best way forward. And
we're seeing it work," he said.
Indeed, Biden has seen his favorability ratings steadily rise over the
course of the campaign, despite a barrage of attacks from Republicans, while
Trump remains underwater in such polls. Democrats have been heartened, too, by
their lead in the record numbers of early votes that have been cast across a
number of battleground states --- though they caution that Republicans are more
likely to turn out on Election Day and certain to make up ground.
Still, multiple Democrats described the "2016 PTSD" that's keeping them up
at night a week out from Election Day. In 2016, Hillary Clinton also enjoyed a
lead in national and some state polls, and Democrats say their complacency then
doomed their candidate. Now, with the pandemic and record numbers of mail and
absentee ballots injecting a greater level of uncertainty into the election,
Democrats are reluctant to let their guard down.
Biden's campaign will focus in the final week on turning out what they've
dubbed the "Biden coalition" -- Black and Latino voters, as well as suburban,
college-educated whites, women and older voters disaffected by Trump.
"What we see consistently is there aren't a whole lot of undecided voters
left, and at this stage of the race it's really about turnout. It's about
educating voters to make sure they know how to vote, and it's about making sure
that that they turn out," Bedingfield said.
Biden's campaign has emphasized the need for Democrats to stay engaged even
as the polls seem to favor their candidate. In a recent memo, Biden campaign
manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said that "in a number of critical states we are
functionally tied," and warned supporters that "every indication we have shows
that this thing is going to come down to the wire."
Bedingfield says that's a message the campaign will continue to push through
"One thing that we have been very vocal about is that we do believe the race
is tighter than a lot of the public polling would suggest," she said. "We are
constantly working to ensure that that people understand that there is an
urgency here, and that we can't get complacent."