Biden Has the Edge as the Final Stretch Begins

September 10, 2020

Everything is a little off about this election, even its traditional fall kickoff. It isn’t only because coronavirus wiped out gigantic Labor Day celebrations for candidates to attend.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, fell on the latest possible date, Sept. 7, while Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, will be on the second-earliest possible date, Nov. 3. So even the campaign’s final stretch will be truncated. Still, it’s a good time to take stock of the race.

Trump partisans don’t believe it, but national polls show former Vice President Joe Biden continues to be ahead. The race has tightened, though, especially in battleground states. Anxious Democrats are wondering if this could be the sixth contest in history and second in a row in which the Electoral College winner loses the national popular vote.

Shifting concerns about Covid-19 may turn the race even more in Mr. Trump’s direction. A Sept. 7 NBC/SurveyMonkey poll found that 52% say the pandemic is more of a health crisis, down from 56% in a July 7 survey, while 47% said it’s more of an economic crisis, up from 43% in July.

If this trend continues, the election will be less about Mr. Trump’s handling of Covid-19 and more about who will be better at restarting the economy. Team Trump would like that, as four August polls found the president retains the advantage on who would do a better job on the economy, by an average of 49% to 43%.

Then there’s Mr. Biden’s reliance on appeals to national unity. A new ad says: “This is our chance to put the darkness of the past four years behind us, to end the anger, the insults, division, violence and start fresh.” Such calls resonate on a deep level with many Americans, especially when the country is as divided as it is now.

Yet appeals to unify have been most effective when tied to a clear direction. For example, Ronald Reagan won by urging Americans to unite behind an economic program to restore prosperity and a policy of “peace through strength.”

Mr. Biden’s unity appeal is a pledge to restore normality to the presidency. That may be sufficient; witness Democratic suburban yard signs proclaiming “I’m So Gonna Vote.” Then again, the Trump campaign’s emphasis on law and order has raised questions about whether Mr. Biden is weak on this essential issue and, more broadly, too weak to resist the pull of his party’s left wing.

Also, the debates start Sept. 29 in Cleveland. These are part of the campaign, not the campaign itself. Elections aren’t truly settled by memorable debate moments, like Michael Dukakis’s cold-blooded answer in 1988 to a question about whether he’d favor the death penalty if his wife were raped and killed, or Gerald Ford’s proclamation in a 1976 debate that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” These moments merely accelerated each candidate’s slide as missteps chewed up valuable days.

There will be other important points between now and early November. Senate Republicans are readying another Covid relief package. While White House chief of staff Mark Meadows marshaled Republicans to keep working on more aid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to negotiate and made outrageously expensive demands. This gave Mr. Trump a line of attack, perhaps like President Harry Truman had with the “do nothing” Republican Congress in 1948. But if Senate Republicans fail to marshal 51 votes for a reasonable bill, they’ll spring Mrs. Pelosi from the trap she created for herself.


Related Article

September 17, 2020 |
The presidential contest is the most important, but hardly the only critical battle this fall.  ...
September 03, 2020 |
If most ballots this fall are cast by mail, the results may not be known for days.  ...
August 27, 2020 |
Last week’s Democratic convention sought to make four points: Joe Biden is a decent man, Donald Trump is horrible, the president bungled the pandemic and Mr. Biden would have handled it better because he grasped the threat from the start. ...
August 20, 2020 |
You might think the Biden campaign’s masterminds are manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, chief strategist Mike Donilon, senior adviser Anita Dunn and communications director Kate Bedingfield, and you’d be right.  ...
Button karlsbooks
Button readinglist
Button nextapperance