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Trump has 100 days to turn things around

By Jonathan Easley – 07/26/20

President Trump faces a steep climb to a second term with 100 days to go before the presidential election. 

The president in recent days has changed his strategy in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic as polls show presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading in the battleground states that will determine who win the White House.

Biden is also competitive in some red states, such as Texas, Georgia, Ohio and Iowa, that Trump must win to have a path to victory.

Trump and the GOP are facing a potential Election Day disaster on Nov. 3 if they do not quickly change the trajectory of the race.

The Republican Senate majority is in danger and the GOP’s hopes of winning back the House appear to be long gone. 

“The landscape is very problematic for Republicans right now and there is a chance that Democrats could control the White House, the Senate and the House that’s becoming a stark reality for the GOP,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

“You could start to see down ballot Republicans go into survival mode. You’re already seeing some Republican senators seeking distance from the president. It becomes about protecting the Senate and everything down to state legislatures, because baby, this fight goes a lot deeper for Republicans and they could lose a hell of a lot more than just the White House,” he added. 

Democrats feel they have the upper hand at the moment but are nervously scanning the volatile political landscape for potential landmines. The party is still haunted by its failure to foresee Trump’s shocking 2016 election victory over Hillary Clinton.

Democratic strategists and operatives believe the 2020 race will get closer as the election nears.

“Recent numbers have been moving in our favor but our expectation is it’s going to tighten,” said Josh Schwerin, a strategist with Priorities USA, the largest outside group supporting Biden’s campaign.

The coronavirus and racial inequality are top of mind for many voters. Biden leads by double-digits on both issues.

The president has shifted in recent days to square himself with public opinion on the coronavirus. Trump is now promoting masks and he’s canceled the GOP convention in Jacksonville, Fla., while restarting his daily coronavirus briefings. 

To address the nationwide protests, the president has used his executive authority to dispatch federal troops to Democratic-controlled cities experiencing demonstrations and incidences of violence. 

Trump is gambling that voters — in particular the suburban voters that have moved away from the GOP since 2018 — will grow tired of discord in the streets and gravitate toward his demands for law and order.

The Trump campaign had planned to run almost exclusively on the economy but the coronavirus lockdown has weakened the president’s reelection argument on his signature issue.

Republicans remain confident that Trump will claw his way back into the race once Biden is forced into the spotlight. The former vice president has curtailed his in-person appearances because of the pandemic.

There will be three presidential debates in the fall and Trump’s supporters believe the one-on-ones will benefit the president. 

“The real question mark is when or if Joe Biden actually campaigns for president of the United States,” said Corbin Casteel, a veteran GOP operative from Austin who led the Trump campaign’s operations in Texas for several months in 2016. “Once that begins, then everyone’s reminded about what the alternatives are.”

At the moment, every meaningful metric points toward big gains for Democrats.

Trump trails Biden by 8.7 points nationally in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. One recent survey put Biden’s lead at 15 points.

Biden’s lead is outside the margin of error in four of the six core battleground states. He leads by 6 points or more in the RealClearPolitics averages of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. One new poll of Florida put Biden ahead by 13 points. Biden has smaller leads in North Carolina and Arizona.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters on Friday that the polls do not accurately reflect the state of the race. He said polls under-sample Republicans and do not account for the GOP’s growing registered voter advantage in the swing states.

“These trends are going to go unnoticed until election night,” Stepien said. “We’re right and they’re wrong.”

Meanwhile, Republican senators are on defense across the map, both in battleground states, such as North Carolina and Arizona, and in right-leaning states, including Alaska, Montana, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Iowa.

Democratic challengers in the marquee Senate races outraised all of the sitting Republican senators in the second quarter, in some instances by huge margins.

The GOP is scrambling to intervene in Senate primaries in Kansas and Tennessee over fears that a weak candidate could cost them seats in deep red states that should not be in play.

“While the Senate Democrats fundraising was strong in the second quarter, the Trump numbers will rebound and this will be a competitive playing field in the fall,” said Scott Reed, the political analyst for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“The GOP Senate class of 2014 is one of the strongest and nothing will motivate voters more than the thought of a Schumer-led U.S. Senate. Our research shows up to a third of Biden supporters are open to a GOP-led Senate.”

The margins in the presidential race will matter in the down ballot contests.

Texas has emerged as a preeminent House battleground, with five GOP members of the state delegation retiring at the end of the year. Though Texas Republicans are still confident Trump will carry the state, they’re worried that a tight presidential contest in the Lone Star State will wipe out their majorities in the House and state legislature. 

“We know that we’re going to pick up a lot of legislative seats,” said Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

“Republicans are trying to defend everything,” she added.

Democrats privately have their own concerns.

Polls show Biden suffering from a lack of enthusiasm among Democratic voters.

Some Democrats are worried that they’re giving Trump an opening to own the law and order space. Others wonder whether Trump’s support is understated in the polls.

And there are questions about whether voters will venture outdoors on Nov. 3 if the pandemic is still raging.

Democrats say that even small changes in their forecasts of the make-up of the electorate could produce dramatic swings in the Electoral College. 

“If the election were today, Democrats would be in a pretty strong position to sweep most, if not all of the critical elections. The problem is the election is not today,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “There’s too much uncertainty to credibly believe this election is somehow in the bag.”

Still, Trump has seen his support erode in recent months among the groups that powered his 2016 run.

The president’s support is down among seniors and white working class voters. Biden leads big among independents.

“The polling is challenging right now, but this is a terrible environment with COVID-19 and the economy suffering from the effects of shutdowns,” said Chris Wilson, a GOP pollster and president of WPA Intelligence. “Polls are always a snapshot in time, but I think you really need to think about where the environment will be in October in interpreting the polls today. If there’s a marked improvement in the pandemic, then today’s polling may not mean a lot in two or three months.”

— Reid Wilson contributed.

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