A shifting battlefield map is imperiling Donald Trump’s re-election, putting the president on the defensive in states his team didn’t expect to be competitive in November.
Recent surveys show Democrat Joe Biden has pulled further ahead in the industrial Midwestern states that Trump won in 2016, as the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting job losses prompted a precipitous slide in his support.
Trump summoned top political advisers to the White House Thursday for a meeting on ways to reverse poll numbers showing re-election may be slipping from his grasp. Then Friday, Trump got an unexpected piece of good news: A drop in the May unemployment rate that suggested the economy — and with it, Trump’s re-election campaign — is more resilient than even he believed.
Trump congratulated himself on the jobs numbers on Twitter, immediately called a news conference, and took a swipe at his challenger.
But the president now also faces a third crisis, nationwide protests over police mistreatment of African-Americans that have turned to rioting and looting in some places, leading Trump to suggest deploying the military to crack down on the demonstrations.
Washington D.C., where Trump has wider leeway to order deployments, has about 7,600 civilian law enforcement, National Guard and active-duty Army personnel stationed just outside the city, Bloomberg News reported.
Biden’s average lead in national polls has inched up 2 points over the last week, and he’s now ahead of Trump by almost 8 points, his largest lead since December.
But it’s the Electoral College, not the popular vote, that chooses presidents. Biden’s recent rise in battleground states has begun to repair the so-called “blue wall” of loyally Democratic states that Trump toppled in 2016. The former vice president now has consistent leads of 4 points in Pennsylvania, 4.2 points in Michigan and 3.4 points in Wisconsin.
The news is not all good for Biden. Each of those leads is far from insurmountable, especially for a candidate fighting Trump, who survived brushes with his political mortality repeatedly in 2016, only to stun Democrats and win the White House.
And Biden’s hill to climb remains steep, with little room for error. If the rest of the map stays the same as 2016, Biden would need all three states to reach the 270 electoral votes necessary to claim the White House.
But the 2020 map so far looks significantly different in ways that could help Biden. He holds a substantial lead in Arizona, for example, a state that Trump won by more than 5 points in 2016. The former vice president believes he could be competitive or win in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and even Texas — all states that Trump comfortably won on his way to the White House
And the Trump campaign is fighting for them. Since early May, it has unloaded $9.1 million on ads defending battleground states he won in 2016. His allied super PAC America First Action has spent $3.9 million in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
More tellingly, the Trump campaign has not gone on the offensive in Democratic-leaning states like Minnesota, Colorado and Virginia as it had once planned.
Trump is also starting to spend money in Iowa, a state that the president carried in 2016 after Barack Obama took it twice.
While Biden has spent only on digital ads since the coronavirus lockdown, outside groups backing him — Priorities USA Action, Unite the Country and others — have spent $7.4 million on ads in battleground states. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have seen the biggest buys.
As things stand now, Biden could not only regain Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, he could take several states once steadfastly Republican: Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas.
Some establishment Republicans are beginning to openly disagree with Trump, a sign of trouble. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said Thursday she’s not sure she’ll vote for him. The Lincoln Project — a group of anti-Trump Republicans — is trolling him with ads in his adopted hometown of Palm Beach, Florida. Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is holding up some executive branch nominations because he is angry that Trump fired several inspectors general.
Trump threatened to campaign against Murkowski in two year’s time in retaliation for her remarks, saying Thursday he would back any opponent, good or bad. “If you have a pulse, I’m with you,” Trump tweeted.
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