Trump Keeps Up Rally Pace and Red State Democrats Want a Biden Visit: This Week in the 2020 Race

Welcome to our weekly analysis of the state of the 2020 campaign.

Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Trump did what his advisers wanted him to do at the debate on Thursday night, despite his lack of prep sessions: He didn’t interrupt former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and he toned himself down. But with less than two weeks left in the race, and nearly 50 million votes already cast in the election, the time for a reset that changes the dynamics of a race whose dynamics have not changed much since March is dwindling. The bulk of the conversation on the debate stage was still about the president’s handling of the coronavirus, where he offered little new.

He accepted responsibility for the 220,000 lives lost, while deflecting any blame, all in the same breath. “I take full responsibility, but China brought it here,” he said. “It’s not my fault.” He asserted that “2.2 million people modeled out were expected to die,” a claim he often repeats but for which there is no clear backing. Mr. Trump’s attempts to paint Mr. Biden as both corrupt and a Trojan Horse of the left fell flat (“he thinks he’s running against someone else,” Mr. Biden pushed back at one point). And the issue of law and order that the president wanted to elevate has dwindled in most parts of the country since a summer of protests.

Keep up with Election 2020

Nearing the end of the race, Mr. Trump has not succeeded in making the election anything but a referendum on himself: his coronavirus response, his tone and his tweets.

Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

In North Carolina this week, Mr. Trump appeared in Gaston County, a reliably Republican county outside of Charlotte that hasn’t had a visit from a general election candidate since President George H.W. Bush stopped there in 1992. In Florida, he visited The Villages, the nation’s largest retirement community that used to be part of his core constituency of older voters. In Wisconsin next week, Mr. Trump is set to visit Waukesha, a county he won four years ago by his biggest margin in the state.

  • He’s working hard to hold onto what he has His rally schedule indicates that his campaign has essentially given up on the suburbs in some battleground states where he has been bleeding support. “Everything we’ve seen from Trump politically, he always goes back to his base,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

  • Trump believes in his own magic The president is disregarding all Covid-19 guidelines and hosting large gatherings in states where the number of positive cases is rising. It is somewhat of a repeat of his endgame strategy in 2016, when his advisers told him he was not likely to win but he held rallies until the end of the race. He has since credited himself with pulling himself over the finish line. The difference this time is that there has yet to be any outside event — like James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, announcing new evidence related to the Hillary Clinton email investigation — to fundamentally alter the race.

  • His advisers think the ground game could still pull them through While Democrats have relied more on digital advertising, the Trump campaign has been door-knocking aggressively. Campaign aides described the final weeks of the campaign as “white-knuckling it” until the end, and said that if a victory on Nov. 3 came through, it would be because of organizers targeting voters aggressively in the battleground states, more than anything Mr. Trump himself says onstage.

Credit...Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

It is a misnomer to think of Nov. 3 as Election Day. Millions of Americans have already voted, using methods like early voting or casting an absentee ballot by mail. In fact, amid the continued spread of coronavirus, most experts believe this presidential election will feature more Americans voting outside of the in-person ballot box than ever before.

That reality has led to some eye-catching early vote totals in several states. However, projecting early vote counts onto Election Day results has been a pitfall of election analysis for years. Here are some things we know — and don’t know — based on the number of ballots that have already been cast.

Credit...Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Mr. Biden’s campaign has a clear path to victory by flipping Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan. However, the campaign is increasingly hearing pleas from Democrats in states that were once considered a long shot, such as Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Ohio.

Mr. Biden’s campaign, however, has long maintained that the race is closer than it appears in polling, and that it needed to conserve resources for must-win states. In recent days, though, some signs have pointed to a late-game push by Democrats into states that are considered surplus. In part, they are following the advice of some prominent Democrats and big donor groups, who have pleaded with Mr. Biden’s campaign that a big win is necessary to kick off a transformative presidency. Here’s what to know about the Biden campaign’s strategy in deep red states.

Shane Goldmacher, Isabella Grullón Paz and Giovanni Russonello contributed reporting.

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