The Latest Polls, the Great Non-Tightening: This Week in the 2020 Race

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

  • A batch of national polls released in the wake of the Democratic and Republican conventions showed Joe Biden leading President Trump by anywhere from seven to 10 percentage points.

  • A variety of swing-state polls also out this week broadly showed Mr. Biden retaining his advantage, though not always by much. Fox News polls showed Mr. Biden with a nine-point lead in Arizona, an eight-point margin in Wisconsin and a narrower four-point edge in North Carolina.

  • Monmouth University surveys showed North Carolina even closer, with Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump separated by just two points, and Mr. Biden up by four points in Pennsylvania. (Both of those differences were within the polls’ margins of error.)

  • Mr. Biden announced raising $364.5 million in August with the Democratic Party, shattering past monthly fund-raising records. Mr. Trump’s campaign has not disclosed its August haul.

  • The Biden campaign also said it was spending $45 million on digital and television ads this week, by far its biggest outlay of the campaign to date, including its first ad to respond to Mr. Trump’s attack over law and order.

If there was any week where President Trump’s campaign might have expected an increase in polling, it was this one. Mr. Trump and Republicans were coming out of their nominating convention, a four-day event that cast re-electing the president as a moral emergency. And after a police shooting in Kenosha, Wis., led to a wave of unrest, Mr. Trump sought to seize on the chaos to promote his “law and order” message and energize his conservative base.

And yet, in a week of polling that provided the clearest electoral picture since the conventions, the evidence pointed to a steady race. The great electoral tightening, feared by Democrats and anticipated by Republicans, has yet to manifest: Mr. Trump didn’t manage to pull even with Mr. Biden in any swing-state poll. And in a Fox News poll of Wisconsin, it was Mr. Biden — not Mr. Trump — who had an edge in the question about trustworthiness regarding policing and criminal justice.

ImagePresident Trump on Friday in the Oval Office, where he said that a report in The Atlantic was “fake.”
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The White House and the Biden campaign reacted with unusual velocity on Thursday night after The Atlantic published an article, citing four unnamed sources, that said Mr. Trump had referred to American soldiers killed in combat during World War I as “losers” and “suckers.”

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, visited reporters traveling aboard Air Force One to Pennsylvania to assure them that the story was false. Upon landing, a visibly angry Mr. Trump marched over to the reporters and denied the story himself, excoriating the writer and sources as “lowlifes” and “liars.”

The Biden campaign immediately organized a call with Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Representative Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, both veterans, and Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, to denounce the president’s comments.

On Friday, Mr. Biden called the report “disgusting,” while Mr. Trump repeated his assertion that it was “fake.”

The swift responses from both sides show how both campaigns thought the story could jeopardize Mr. Trump’s support from the military just two months before an election. Will it?

  • It helps Mr. Trump that the sources chose to remain anonymous. That has left Mr. Biden having to address the story with a caveat, “If these statements are true,” and allows Mr. Trump to cast doubt on a report that some former officials said they believed because it was in line with his general view of military service.

  • Nothing sticks. On the campaign trail four years ago, Mr. Trump horrified many fellow Republicans when he insulted Senator John McCain, the former prisoner of war, by saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” In the grand scheme, the comment hurt him not at all, and seems positively tame compared with what has come since then.

  • But Mr. Trump is already struggling with military support — and the entire election will be a game at the margins. Polling suggests Mr. Trump’s popularity has slipped among active-duty troops. If Republicans have been impressed with the president’s recent law-and-order message, his purported private disgust for the military threatens to undermine the message that Mr. Trump stands with American men and women in uniform.

Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

After months of trying to project caution about coronavirus safety measures, Mr. Biden and some of his surrogates are (cautiously) hitting the road again.

It started this week in Kenosha, Wis., where Mr. Biden held a listening session that brought together police officers, racial justice activists, civic leaders and business owners in a conversation about healing and racial equity. Timing his trip just days after Mr. Trump visited Kenosha and focused on vandalism and looting, it was clear that Mr. Biden wanted to project what he thought a presidential visit should look like.

The visit had the side benefit of neutralizing an infamous argument about Wisconsin from 2016, when the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, did not visit the state during the general election campaign and lost there by fewer than 23,000 votes.

In the days since Mr. Biden’s visit to Kenosha, his campaign has announced new events in Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Based on conversations with Democratic advisers, and the campaign’s recent virtual events, here’s what to expect:

  • A focus on the pandemic, and Mr. Trump’s failures. The Biden campaign believes the pandemic response has all the hallmarks of the ways that Americans are dissatisfied with Mr. Trump’s administration, and is a singular issue that has affected every American’s life. Although Mr. Trump’s convention framed his record as one that stopped the health crisis from being worse, Mr. Biden will highlight the ways the incumbent has ignored experts and public health advice. One example: an upcoming trip to Minnesota by Jill Biden, who is embarking on a national “Back-to-School Tour” as the country grapples with reopening procedures.

  • A catchall strategy on racial equity and protests. First, the Biden campaign debuted a digital advertisement embracing law and order and condemning rioting and looting in cities. Then, the campaign started running an advertisement titled “We’re Listening,” in which Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, express sympathy for protesters and outline steps for police reform. Though the ideas are not in conflict, they are indicative of Mr. Biden’s catchall approach when it comes to the current moment of racial unrest in the country.

  • Integrating new reporting on Mr. Trump and veterans. Few reports break through the fire hose of political noise, but the Atlantic report captured both campaigns’ attention this week. There are signs that Mr. Biden’s campaign will further integrate the controversy into its messaging, including a web video it posted on Friday. And Vote Vets, a liberal group of veterans that has endorsed Mr. Biden, has already made an advertisement about the issue.

Framing his suggestion as a way to stress-test the security of election systems, Mr. Trump this week said voters in North Carolina should try to vote twice, once by mail and once in person, to make sure their choice was counted.

Intentionally voting twice is illegal — an offense that can send you to jail in some states — and the comments served as the president’s latest attempt to cast doubt on the integrity of the November election and set the stage to claim the election was somehow rigged, if he loses.

  • Mr. Trump makes so many outlandish and vaguely worded statements that it makes it easy for his defenders to wave some of them away when he is criticized. White House officials said Mr. Trump was only encouraging his supporters to verify that their mail-in ballots had been counted, and denied that he was encouraging people to vote twice.

  • What’s not clear yet is whether North Carolina voters took him seriously and literally, and whether they will try to break the law as the state begins its vote-by-mail process.

  • The North Carolina State Board of Elections issued a statement reminding people that voting twice is illegal — the latest reminder that living in America under the Trump administration is a daily civics lesson.

Credit…David Degner for The New York Times
  • Voting in Massachusetts went smoothly on Tuesday, with more than 1.6 million ballots cast and a Democratic Senate primary winner called around 10:30 p.m. An emphasis on mail-in voting, a decline in coronavirus infection rates and a less heated partisan atmosphere helped. Still, the state’s harsh mailing deadlines may have disenfranchised some voters.

  • Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, repeated a false claim that Covid-19 death statistics were being inflated. Her Democratic opponent, Theresa Greenfield, accused her of “peddling dangerous conspiracy theories.”

  • A new campaign called #HealTheVote aims to turn out 100,000 crime survivors for the coming election. Many survivors have said that voting is a way not only to influence policy, but also to combat the sense of powerlessness and violation they felt after being attacked.

Shane Goldmacher, Giovanni Russonello and Mariel Wamsley contributed reporting.

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