Trump, Biden Close Drama-Filled Race With Sprint to Election Day

01 November 2020
Trump, Biden Close Drama-Filled Race With Sprint To Election Day 1/1

The final stretch of the race for the White House between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has been fraught with dramatic twists -- a hospitalized president, a resurgent pandemic, the death of an iconic Supreme Court justice, and the rapid confirmation of her successor.

Yet none of it appears to have altered the course of the race that was set months ago.

After striding into the 2020 election year with a white-hot economy and beating Democratic efforts to remove him from office, Trump was ready to cruise to a second term. But then came the pandemic and economic devastation, steadily unraveling his presidency and case for re-election.

Now, two days before Election Day, Trump finds himself significantly trailing his Democratic challenger and looking to defy public opinion polls -- as he did four years ago -- to salvage a victory.

“The polling average in this race has just not moved, no matter what happened,” said Jason Roberts, associate chair and professor in the political science department at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Which to me suggests that voters by and large have made up their minds and made up their minds months ago, and the campaign has just been a sideshow.”

And the changes are weighing on markets, one of Trump’s favorite barometers for his performance. The S&P 500 Index dropped 5.6% last week over concerns about economic growth -- the worst-ever loss in the week leading to a presidential election.

Trump, though, has maintained his defiant approach and says he has enough support across forgotten corners of America to deliver a second term. He’ll need his die-hard base, who are more likely to vote in-person, to deliver victories in several neck-and-neck states. And he needs Democrats who are lukewarm on Biden -- particularly urban and minority voters -- to stay home.

Biden aides have raised warning flags in the final weeks of the race that the campaign has not done enough to encourage Black and Latino voters to turn out, particularly in critical states like Florida and Pennsylvania and expansion states like Arizona. Fewer than half of non-White voters in those states have cast ballots so far.

Read More: Biden Aides See Warning Signs in Black, Latino Turnout So Far

But Trump has lost support from key groups, including seniors and suburban women, over his response to the pandemic. Biden now leads by more than 20 percentage points among women in most polls.

“I think a lot of women are struggling more than ever because of Covid-19, and I think that has really impacted this election,” said Nichola Gutgold, a professor at Penn State Lehigh Valley who studies women in politics. “Middle-class suburban women have turned on Trump mostly because their lives have gotten very hard.”

That trend has Democrats cautiously optimistic about their chances to reclaim the White House and possibly the Senate as well. Polling has consistently shown Biden leading nationally and in key swing states. Compared to 2016, turnout looks poised to grow and fewer voters are undecided. Meanwhile, Trump and Senate Republicans are playing defense in traditionally reliable states, including Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

“There’s explosive energy by people on the Democratic side that refuse to believe the polls,” said Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Both Michigan and Wisconsin flipped to Trump in 2016, but each state elected a Democratic governor in 2018 and polls indicate they’re poised to remain with Democrats this year.

‘Razor Thin’ 

Andrew Hitt, Wisconsin’s Republican chairman, said the margin is “razor thin.” For Republicans, “it’s the economy and it’s law and order,” he said. “If we look at the other side and where they are focused, it’s Covid and it’s health care.”


While Republicans have pleaded with the president to deliver an economy-focused message to voters, his campaign has instead centered almost exclusively on Trump himself -- a risky approach given his polarizing effect among Americans. Democrats say distaste for the president has unified progressives behind the more moderate Biden and other party candidates.

“We have great candidates, great message, but Donald Trump has been our best motivator,” said Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Even Republican lawmakers have hinted publicly they think Democrats are likely to take the White House. Some have said they should focus on holding their Senate majority.

“It’s really dicey,” said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist who worked on the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, among others. “You’ve got a half a dozen races there that are too close to call and most of them are Republican seats.”

Endangered Senators

Republicans enter the election with a 53-47 majority in the chamber. Three Republicans -- Colorado’s Cory Gardner, Maine’s Susan Collins and Arizona’s Martha McSally -- are viewed as likely to lose, and the races for both Senate seats in Georgia and one each in North Carolina, South Carolina, Iowa and Montana are close. Republicans are regarded as likely to reclaim a Democrat-held Senate seat in Alabama, and have also made a push to unseat Democrats in Michigan and Minnesota.

The two campaigns have laid out starkly divergent platforms.

Biden would expand the Affordable Care Act, raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, enact climate policies that Trump has abandoned and expand U.S. immigration that Trump has curbed. He says he would restore dignity and consistency to the White House and repair frayed relations with allies overseas.

Staying the Course

Trump has campaigned on staying the course -- cut more taxes, continue to fortify U.S. borders, further curb immigration and roll back more regulations. He has repeatedly struggled to articulate a broader vision for his second term.


“Make America Great Again, Again,” Trump says, recycling his 2016 slogan.

If Biden wins and Democrats take the Senate, he’ll be under pressure from liberals to pursue a range of structural changes to the government. That could include expanding the Supreme Court, to dilute the conservative majority Trump reinforced, and granting statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, adding what would be an almost guaranteed four Democrats to the majority.

But he would also risk the same fate that befell Barack Obama: winning on a wave of high expectations, only to face a tight window to pass core priorities before midterm elections that could cost Democrats control of one or both chambers of Congress.

Trump has embarked on a final barnstorm through swing states to make his case, and will hold 14 rallies between Saturday and Monday.

“He’s obviously doing a last-ditch sprint hoping that he can win voters in these areas,” Gutgold said. “And I guess it’s possible that he can change minds -- but I don’t know, I don’t think so.”

— With assistance by Tyler Pager
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