With less than 100 days until Election Day, here's where things stand:
Joe Biden has the clear advantage — for now. With a majority of Americans disapproving of the way President Trump is handling the coronavirus pandemic, Biden has jumped to an 8-point lead in an average of the national polls. That's double what his advantage was at the end of February, and the presumptive Democratic nominee is at or near 50% in many surveys. Problematically for the president, the coronavirus isn't going away and that threatens his prospects heading into the fall.
But Biden's advantage in those national surveys has come largely from a drop in Trump's support rather than a big increase in the percentage of people saying they would vote for Biden. The Biden campaign has been saying for months during this surge that it expects the race to tighten, and no one should be surprised if it does.
That said, Biden has seen his lead grow in key states. Looking at 15 targeted states, Biden has increased his advantage by an average of about 4.5 points:
Colorado: +12 Biden gain (from Biden +3 to +15)
Wisconsin: +8 (from Trump +1 to Biden +7)
Arizona: +7 (from Trump +4 to Biden +3)
Minnesota: +6 (from Biden +5 to +11)
New Hampshire: +5 (from Biden +2 to +7)
Michigan: +5 (from Biden +3 to +8)
Florida: +5 (from Biden +2 to +7)
Virginia: +5 (from Biden +5 to +10)
Pennsylvania: +4 (from Biden +3 to +7)
Texas: +4 (from Trump +4 to even)
Iowa: +4 (from Trump +4 to even)
Nevada: +2 (from Biden +5 to +7).
Trump has held steady or Biden has made statistically insignificant gains in Ohio (Trump gained 1, Biden leads by 1); North Carolina (no change, Biden leads by 2); and Georgia (Biden gained 1, Trump leads by 1).
But if we're talking about places like Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Texas and Arizona being competitive, that's a problem for Trump. We're not talking about Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Nevada as potential expansion states for Trump.
Just look at where the Trump campaign is spending on TV ads — Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida, according to Advertising Analytics, which tracks campaign ad spending.
But a lot can happen between now and November. Here are nine things to keep an eye on that can change the dynamics of the race:
1. Coronavirus: Trump's handling of the pandemic has hurt him badly politically. Can he win back some of those right-leaning independents who might be open to his message if they see him as even marginally handling it better?
2. School reopenings are right around the corner. If there's one thing suburban voters care about it's their kids and schools. And teachers unions are a key Democratic voting bloc.
3. The economy: With states tentatively reopened, local economies are still struggling. Congress is haggling over a fifth relief package with a GOP bill expected Monday, but people won't truly get back on their feet until the economy is fully back up and running. And that's unlikely to happen until there's a widely distributed vaccine, which is unlikely to happen until 2021 at the earliest.
4. Biden's VP pick: Trump has seen advantages over Biden on enthusiasm with his base, and many on the left are waiting to see which woman makes it onto Biden's ticket.
5. The conventions: This is the first time the conventions will be mostly virtual. In most past elections, one or both candidates got a "convention bounce." How will that manifest in this age of the coronavirus and virtual conventions?
6. The debates: The debates in 2016 didn't seem to matter. Polls and focus groups showed Hillary Clinton won them, but they certainly can be detrimental to a candidate if he or she does something glaringly bad that breaks through.
7. Fundraising: The Biden campaign struggled to raise money during the primaries; that isn't the case anymore. And the Trump campaign looks less like the juggernaut it had been, as it struggles to keep donors enthused. Canceling the convention last minute after moving it to Florida it has rankled some well-coiffed feathers. That's especially problematic for the Trump campaign, as it likely will have to spend money in states that are usually pretty red.
8. Candidates' health: Trump and Biden are the two oldest candidates to stand for election with a combined age of 151. And both have taken shots at the other's mental and physical fitness. Both are relatively healthy for their age, but what if that changes either way?
9. Potential surprises: Election dynamics can change right up until Election Day. In 2016, the Trump Access Hollywood tape came out a month before Election Day. And former FBI Director James Comey wrote a letter to Congress less than a couple of weeks before Election Day, saying he was reopening the investigation into Clinton's email server — only to say two days before the election that it would not be charging Clinton after reviewing the emails. There have been lots of "October surprises" that have threatened to imperil candidates.
With no bigger wildcard than Trump, we should all be prepared for the unexpected.
"We want to pay folks to go back to work. And incidentally, we are going to have on top of the cap of wages, 70% — which is quite generous by any standard — on top of that, we will have a reemployment bonus and a retention tax credit bonus for going back to work."
— White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on CNN, arguing that continuing to offer a fixed $600 in federal unemployment benefits is a disincentive for people to get back to work. The latest iteration of the Republican coronavirus relief bill, to be released Monday, will offer about 70% of wages.
Some officials are worried about the feasibility of the GOP plan, and many would argue that Kudlow's theory of the case is wrong — that people want to get back to work, but the jobs aren't there right now with the retail and restaurant industries especially struggling.
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