Joe Biden is swaggering into Election Day.
Despite Democratic polling leads across several battleground states, the party has been unable to completely shake the ominous reminders of their last, demoralizing war against President Donald Trump. They are still bracing for a surge of Republican turnout on Tuesday, their nerves fraying with each new image of Trump’s sprawling crowds and new threats of what Trump will do once the polls are closed and the vote-counting starts.
But as the exhausting and surreal march to Nov. 3 comes to an end, Biden’s campaign used Monday to begin doing what’s been impossible for Trump’s opponents to muster in his four years as president: Wrest the media narrative, and ultimately power, from the president.
In self-assured intervals, Biden, his top surrogates and campaign officials marched out to summarily dismiss Trump’s anticipated attempts to claim an early victory. Biden’s team issued assertive declarations that they have the legal muscle to hold off any last-minute maneuvering. And they pointed to the electoral map and torrent of early voting to frame their chances of winning as unquestionably better than they were in 2016.
“It’s certainly not impossible,” for Trump to win, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon told reporters in a Zoom presentation. “But it is important to just say that we come into Election Day with a significant advantage.”
Late polls and a handful of other numbers buoy Biden
Given the crush of pre-Election Day voting, Biden advisers estimated that Trump will need to do much better in a handful of key states than he did on Election Day four years ago to come out ahead.
The Biden campaign estimated Trump will have to pull in 62 percent of the Election Day vote in North Carolina Tuesday. Similarly, they say he needs to reach 61 percent in Wisconsin and 60 percent in Arizona.
O’Malley Dillon said she expects a large share of still un-counted ballots in Maricopa County to Break strongly for break for Biden. And she pointed to the low rates of rejected ballots: 0.1 percent in Wisconsin, 0.3 percent in Florida, and 0.4 percent in Michigan.
“Leads like ours and what we’re seeing will be difficult to overcome on Election Day,” she said. “We really believe that we come into Election Day with a strong advantage.”
But amid the expectations-setting, Biden’s campaign stressed that vote-counting is likely to drag on in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
What if Trump jumps the gun?
While Trump was grinding through another whirlwind day on the road, with five stops in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, Biden’s camp was trying to put the focus on the president’s misleading and ahistorical claims that the election must be called on election night.
“Under no scenario will Donald Trump be declared a victor on election night, and we think that that’s really fundamental to how we want to approach tomorrow,” O’Malley Dillon said.
O’Malley Dillon also stressed that whatever remarks Trump makes, either pre-election or potentially after the polls close on Tuesday night, have no bearing on the actual election results.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when people or states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over,” Trump said over the weekend, part of an argument he’s mounted for months, but which has taken on added significance amid news reports that he plans to claim victory, particularly if he rolls up wins along the East Coast in states like Florida that will likely count their ballots relatively quickly.
In fact, state laws in many places, red and blue alike, require a longer vote-counting period. While Trump appears to be preparing to call the election illegitimate because a large number of Democratic-leaning mail ballots might be counted in the days after Election Day, state legislators — including a good many Republicans — have set up this system and worked under it in the past.
But the jockeying has colored the race heading into the final say. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, in a televised interview earlier Monday backed up Trump, though she acknowledged that no winner was known in the Bush-Gore presidential race in 2000: “I don’t think that that was a pretty good moment for more American politics and the country.”
“We don’t believe that voters should have to wait for days on end. We know that that’s subject to fraud, finding new ballots out there,” McEnany said, even though election fraud is exceedingly rare, and there’s even less evidence connecting it to long periods of vote counting.
The reality is we won’t know anything close to final results on election night, though there are a few scenarios in which Joe Biden could quickly amass 270 electoral votes in media projections. There’s nothing legally binding about a candidate declaring victory, and it would do nothing to stop vote-counting from continuing to actually determine the winner.
Preparing for court
Bob Bauer, senior adviser to the Biden campaign and former White House counsel, pointed to what he called the Democrats’ largest-ever assembled voter protection program and said it’s been working so far to stop Trump and Republicans.
“If there’s anything that demonstrates conclusively that the Trump vote-suppression program and vote suppression rhetoric will fail it’s what we’ve seen this extraordinary performance today on the part of our voters, turning out voting in record numbers and really blazing the path for our democracy, so we have every reason to be hopeful,” he said.
Pressed on whether he’s prepared, Bauer said he is.
“We are fully prepared for, you know, any legal hi-jinks of one kind or another, we’re not worried about it,” Bauer continued. “We think that it is very clear that for a period of time, in a variety of ways, the Trump campaign has attempted quite unsuccessfully to persuade everybody that there is some potential problem with the election … So, we’re going to match them — I assure you — and exceed them in quality and vigor and will protect the vote.”
Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania continued to command the focus of both campaigns. Even if Trump runs the table in the pure toss-up state — a list that includes Arizona, where Biden leads by roughly 3 percentage points in public polls, and Georgia, where the Democrat has opened up the narrowest of advantages in those surveys — Trump would still need to take a state where Joe Biden has a more solid lead.
That’s why Pennsylvania is so important, and why both candidates are spending time in the state today. (See POLITICO’s final Election Forecast for more on the state of play).
A new Monmouth University poll out Monday — likely the final major survey of the Pennsylvania — showed Biden with a 5-point lead. In addition to Trump rallying in the Scranton area, Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence will be in Latrobe and Erie, a Pennsylvania bellwether.
Biden’s plan to canvass with union members and their leadership in Beaver County appears designed to cut into the nearly 20-percentage point advantage Trump had in the area in 2016. Biden then heads to Pittsburgh to rally African American support before ending the day with a big drive-in rally with Lady Gaga. Jill Biden heads to Erie, Lawrence County and Allegheny County.
Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are hitting other corners of the state — Harris in Luzerne County and the Lehigh Valley and Emhoff in Lancaster, Ephrata, Montgomery and Bucks counties. They wrap up with a drive-in event of their own in Philadelphia with John Legend.
Biden’s flurry of Election Eve ads, including one featuring Harris
Biden has launched a large number of new TV ads for the final stretch run, according to Advertising Analytics, including ads with state-specific information for voters heading to the polls on Tuesday. In states where photo IDs are required, the ads remind voters to bring them — and tell them to remember that if they’re in line when the polls close, they can still cast their vote.
One notable Biden ad features Harris speaking to the camera, interspersed with footage and still photos of Harris and Black voters, saying “Joe and I see you.”
Another two new spots feature former President Barack Obama speaking about Biden’s humanity and compassion, including one ad with Spanish subtitles and Obama speaking a few lines of Spanish himself. The DNC also has a new ad with Biden that’s partially in Spanish, running through chaotic news over the past four years.
And in another ad, Jill Biden touts her husband’s eagerness to bring people together and “find common ground,” while yet one more says Biden can give America “a fresh start.”
Trump has a pair of new ads out as well, including one saying Trump has delivered the change he promised and made America “stronger, safer and more prosperous than ever.” Another Trump ad juxtaposes Trump’s campaign pitch with images of protesters, saying they “don’t believe in America’s promise.”
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