Voters are about to take their first long look of the 2020 presidential campaign at presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden — and that may not be a bad thing for President Trump.
Biden announced Kamala Harris, Democratic senator from California, as his running mate on Tuesday and will accept the presidential nomination during the Democratic National Convention next week. Conventions frequently produce a polling bounce for the party’s ticket. Even though they will be largely virtual events this year due to the pandemic, that’s a bigger change for delegates than voters, who experience the conventions as televised speeches normally.
But this election cycle has been so focused on Trump, often to his detriment, that the incumbent may benefit from some eyes on his Democratic challenger, Republican strategists say.
“Most people move to the center when they get to the general election, he is just moving more and more to the left,” said a former Trump 2016 campaign official of Biden. The official acknowledged the president and his reelection team haven’t had much success breaking through with the message that Biden is in bed with the Left. “Voters might need to see for themselves.”
Biden has jumped out to a lead with what critics have called a basement campaign, becoming the front-runner in a race where he has been almost an afterthought. The former vice president is ahead of Trump in most battleground states and is up by 7.5 points in the RealClearPolitics national polling average, despite a sparse public campaign schedule and only a few major media interviews, none of them hostile.
“Joe Biden has only ventured out of his Delaware basement studio a handful of times over the past six months,” said America Rising PAC communications director Chris Martin in a statement. “In the few instances that he did, he consistently ignored attempts by reporters to question him.”
That has allowed the public’s attention to remain focused on the coronavirus, the economic downturn, and the protests following George Floyd’s death in police custody, all events transpiring under Trump, who continues to generate multiple headlines daily in his own right. Trump’s numbers took a turn for the worse by the end of March and have barely recovered since.
One Republican strategist even said the rebooted White House coronavirus briefings were a mistake for this reason. “When he has genuine news to share, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to the Brady briefing room,” the strategist said. “But if you’re not introducing much new messaging, the briefings start to become adversarial.”
The consensus in both parties is that if the election is a referendum on Trump, Biden is likely to win, especially since the coronavirus disrupted the economic boom. “He inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” Harris said of Trump during her official rollout on Wednesday. “And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground.” But if the election is a binary choice in which Biden and Harris are also scrutinized, Trump has a shot. That was the type of contest that allowed him to beat Hillary Clinton despite a nearly 60% unfavorable rating on Election Day.
Both the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have thrown the kitchen sink at Harris since she has been announced in an effort to define her for the electorate. But Trump’s instinct is to seek publicity, and so he heads to the White House briefing room to hold court. “That’s why he refused, Biden, to take questions, he couldn’t answer any of them,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.
In addition to questions about the Democrats’ liberal policy platform, their convention will be the first time during this campaign many voters will see Biden speak for an extended period of time. Republicans are hopeful they will see a 77-year-old who has lost a step since he served two terms as vice president and think twice about electing a candidate nearly four years older than Trump, who is himself the oldest person elected president to a first term in U.S. history.
Democrats remain confident their ticket will prosper in the spotlight. “Biden delivered on his promise that he would pick a running mate who is ready on day one to be president,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “Harris already won the political triple crown of service in local, state, and national office. Her experience as San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general, and a U.S. senator made her the most battle-tested of the candidates in the mix to be Biden’s running mate and possibly president.” Biden’s choice of Harris reflected self-confidence, he said.
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