The Week in Numbers
This was the week that Joe Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump settled firmly into the double digits, according to a range of national polling averages — including The Upshot’s calculator. Some credible polls, including one released Friday by The Associated Press/NORC, put Biden’s lead as high as 15 points.
Two New York Times/Siena College polls in the Carolinas showed Biden edging ahead of the president in North Carolina, 46% to 42%, while Trump held an 8-point lead in South Carolina. Winning North Carolina would be a huge boost for Biden, who is polling more strongly in a number of swing states that appear to be stronger bets. South Carolina would be icing on the cake.
Democratic Senate candidates outpaced Republican incumbents in fundraising in key races across the nation last week, including in Maine, where Sara Gideon announced raising $31 million more than Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican incumbent.
A Split-Screen View of America’s Big Choice
When NBC announced a town hall event with Trump that was scheduled for the same time as ABC’s town hall program with Biden, Democrats were enraged. Celebrities spoke out, including some of NBC’s own talent, and liberals on social media made grand plans to boycott the event in an effort to send a message to Trump and the network.
Joe Biden participates in a town hall with moderator ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Instead, the split screen of Trump and Biden at concurrent town halls painted a vivid picture of the stark choices before American voters. Biden was pressed on policy plans from climate change to criminal justice, hammering home his core message that the Trump administration had fumbled the coronavirus pandemic. Trump sparred with Savannah Guthrie of NBC, the moderator, refusing to give clear answers on his own coronavirus diagnosis and whether he denounces the violent conspiracy theory of QAnon.
U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum, in Miami.
In the end, the contrast was so stark that one of Trump’s senior advisers compared Biden’s town hall event to Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” (though she meant it as an insult). Even the Democrats who were initially wary of the events learned a lesson that Trump’s campaign team has come to know, at times painfully: Not all airtime is necessarily helpful to the president.
President and Nominee Dance Around Loyalty
The split screen of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings unfolding on Capitol Hill as Trump addressed voters directly raised questions for both the president and his Supreme Court nominee about how much they are expecting from each other in the coming months.
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is sworn in during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Did Trump have a litmus test for Barrett, when it came to politically charged issues like overturning Roe v. Wade, or how she might rule in an upcoming case that could decide the future of the Affordable Care Act? Would Trump expect Barrett to rule for him if a dispute over the Nov. 3 election comes before the Supreme Court? Both Trump and Barrett were asked those questions this week, and both claimed that there was never a loyalty pledge — sought or given.
“It would be totally up to her,” Trump said on NBC on Thursday night. “I would think that she would be able to rule either for me or against me. I don’t see any conflict whatsoever.” Barrett, for her part, said she would not allow herself “to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people.” But here’s what the president has communicated.
— Trump has said the Supreme Court may decide the election outcome. He has also said he wants Barrett confirmed by Election Day, in part because he assumes the results of the election could be in dispute and he is “counting” on the court to “look at the ballots.”
— He has been explicit about the Affordable Care Act. Trump has said he wants justices who would “do the right thing” and invalidate the health care law. Barrett said this past week: “I’m not here on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act. I’m just here to apply the law and adhere to the rule of law.”
— Trump has made it abundantly clear he prizes loyalty. The president never forgave his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, ridiculing him over the decision for years. In recent weeks, he has even been publicly critical of William Barr, the current attorney general, because the Justice Department’s investigation of the Obama administration found no wrongdoing and did not bring any criminal charges. And the Supreme Court has not been off limits for criticism from this administration. Vice President Mike Pence in August denounced Chief Justice John Roberts as a “disappointment to conservatives” after he sided with the Democratic appointees on a series of cases.
Trump Wants Rallies. Aides Aren’t So Sure.
Trump’s plan from now until Election Day is to pack in as many rallies as physically and monetarily possible (Air Force One is not a cheap lift for a campaign that has been struggling financially.) But the strategy, favored by a president who adores adoring crowds, has some people in his orbit questioning whether it’s the best way to further his reelection chances in the final days of the race.
Donald Trump holds MAGA campaign rally in Macon, GA.
The preaching-to-the-converted sessions in airport hangars across battleground states are no longer being carried on national television, and most of the attention they attract is for the images of people packed together, most without masks on.
Some Trump campaign aides argued that the rallies still drive the local news in critical areas and allow the campaign to gather information from low-propensity voters who they can try to turn out at the polls. But even they admit the rallies are not without their downsides.
— Polls show that the vast majority of Americans think Trump contracted the coronavirus because he didn’t take proper precautions: When the president shows up at an airport hangar and brags about how large the crowd is, it seems like a warning sign for what not to do in the middle of a highly contagious pandemic.
— Trump’s best pitch is to broaden his economic appeal: He doesn’t do that at rallies, where over the past week he has begged suburban women to like him, made wildly inflated claims about his own achievements and floated conspiracy theories about his political opponents.
— But it keeps him happy and busy: Trump has pushed his campaign advisers to book more rallies, and they admit that without the rallies he would probably spend more unscheduled “executive time” watching television and tweeting, activities that come with their own sets of downsides.
Harris Pauses Travel to Send a Message
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Biden’s running mate, abruptly suspended travel this past week after a senior staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. The staff member, in addition to a flight crew member who had also tested positive, had not been in close contact with Harris, but the campaign pulled her from events through the weekend as a stated precaution. The campaign said Harris was not quarantining and had continued to test negative for the coronavirus. So why is she off the campaign trail? Politics.
The Biden campaign wants to create a contrast with the Trump administration on all things coronavirus. As the White House and Trump continue to obfuscate on the precise details of the president’s diagnosis, and the gap in time between his last negative test and his first positive one, Biden’s campaign is trying to show voters — and the media — that it is taking the virus seriously. Consider this:
Dems in array: The Democratic Party is united in its indictments of Trump’s handling of the virus, and its goal of expanding health care and combating climate change; those are the issues that unite the party’s candidates across the country. In Biden’s town hall event, and in Harris’ vice presidential debate, they both started by criticizing the Trump administration’s pandemic response. On Thursday, the Democratic National Committee paid for floating billboards outside Trump’s town hall event that read: “Trump lied. People died.”
The White House keeps providing them opportunities: Trump has continued to push back against accepted mitigation strategies such as mask wearing. On Thursday night, Trump repeatedly cited anecdotal evidence that mask wearing did not necessarily help prevent infection with the virus, even as his own public health experts stress its importance. In fighting this battle, he has created an opening that Biden is seeking to exploit.
Also This Week
— In Ohio, the overwhelming number of mail-in ballot requests has slowed service in several counties. In Summit County, ballots were delayed until Oct. 10, with the rest of the initial batch of 95,000 not mailed until Oct. 12.
— In Texas this past week, hours before early voting began in the state, a three-judge federal panel upheld an order by Gov. Greg Abbott limiting counties to one drop box apiece for ballots. The result forced high-density cities to shut down dozens of ballot drop boxes they had planned to use.
— Indian Americans are the second largest immigrant group in the country. Trump tried engaging this group with a rally in Houston last year, but Indian Americans are leaning toward the Democrats. Harris has something to do with it, but most respondents were turned off by Trump’s attacks on immigration and people of color.