The pressure is on both President Donald Trump and former Vice-President Joseph Biden but in different ways. The incumbent Republican is staying on a strategy that will see him physically campaigning even in states that are putting up the warning flag on account of the third surge in the coronavirus. But the difference is that he is going to be holding rallies only in critical counties that stayed with him in 2016 or put him over the top. By this, Trump is making sure that his base is not distracted and stays with him on election day. There have already been indications that suburban women voters and Evangelicals have started moving away, a source of high concern to the campaign.
For Biden, it is a different story: the Democrats, especially in the red states like Georgia, Texas, Ohio and Iowa, want him out there physically in the hope of making some electoral gains. Even if these states are not to cross over to the Blue category on November 3, Democratic operatives believe that a Biden push could help in the battle for the Senate races. And, in so far as the battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania, Democrats are urging Biden to get away from the virtual mode to a physical presence. In places the former Vice-President is unable to be present, he has deputed his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.
In the final days of the 2020 election season, campaign managers of both camps will be anxiously wringing their hands and hoping only for one thing: that their candidates, at the last minute, do not commit any howlers that will cost them the election. Biden especially is seen as prone to gaffes or saying something offensive thinking it is funny; for any such last-minute slip-ups will do irreparable damage. In fact, if Trump was more than measured in the final debate, much of the credit should go to his campaign team who must have weighed down on the President not to repeat what he did on September 29 when he constantly and unnecessarily needled both Biden and the moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. Trump campaign’s internal polling would have shown the hammering the candidate must have received for his boisterous and boorish behaviour.
The last debate in Tennessee was truly civilized even if it did not bring out the clear cut advantage that Trump or Biden enjoyed over the other. For a person heading into the final week behind by at least nine points in a raft of polls, this was Trump’s biggest last-minute opportunity to define why he should be given another four years and what was in store for America in a second Trump administration. He once again let the chance slip and made November 3 a referendum on his first four years and chiefly over the coronavirus. He did take responsibility but again it was the fault of China, all of which voters have repeatedly heard in the past several months. Trump wasted precious time in talking about corruption of the Bidens, a subject that has very little traction or mileage in this election given that these stories have been put out by the President’s cronies a very long time back.
There has been a visible disappointment on the lack of any meaningful discussion on immigration, except for a brief back and forth on the plight of separated children from their parents. The simplistic notion that all illegals are a bunch of hoodlums who come to America to rape women and peddle in drugs is something that extremists have been peddling for a long time. Neither Trump nor Biden, and by extension their parties, have sought to address this thorny issue that has defied a holistic solution for many years. It seems to be a red rag to both parties who will not only have to discuss the issue of illegals but a whole range of immigration-related matters including security at the borders of America, stabilization of visas, green cards and the pathways to citizenship. The parties have muscled over the years on whether an illegal must be shown a route to citizenship; or whether there ought to be an interim cooling period in which a person ought to return to his country of origin and then get back the legal way. A second trump administration or a Biden Presidency will have no easy answers on immigration.
It is not about Red States or Blue States but the United States was the message of Biden who too did not use the 90 minutes to forcefully drive home any message on the substantive aspects of a Biden Presidency, be it with respect to climate change, immigration, race relations or health care. Biden and the Democrats have managed to pin down Trump on the coronavirus which indeed seems to be making the headlines going into election day. More than 223,000 people have died and many are scared of the third spike in some states that were already devastated in the first two rounds. Here again, Biden did not seize the chance to take issue with Trump on who indeed is responsible for the stalled Stimulus Package — it is not Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Trump charged but the Republicans in the Senate going by what the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said, according to media reports.
This 2020 election will long be remembered for different reasons, one of which being close to 50 million people, or one-third of the voting population have already cast their votes. And this has raised the question of who gets the advantage—if the temptation is there to say that it is the Democrats, the argument will be that Republicans, going by the sentiments of the man in the White House on early and mail-in voting, will be turning out in record numbers on election day to offset any initial edge for the Democrats. But the bottom line punditry is that this election is going to see a record voter turnout as never witnessed in recent times.
There is one other group other than Republicans and Democrats who are anxiously waiting for the results of this Presidential election—pollsters and polling agencies. In 2016 nearly eight out of ten surveys had Hillary Clinton in the lead only to see Donald Trump besting her on election day. It is the same story for Trump this time around as well; only that whether he is confident of a repeat of poll predictions of last time. One nagging fear is that of the ‘hidden’ Trump sympathizer or voter who may have been shy of admitting support to the President in a poll but going in and voting for him on election day. The Biden campaign has been cautious in reacting to all surveys for campaign staffers have good examples of complacency and arrogance to fall back on.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations).