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How Biden Can Win
Stay on message. A Biden victory will depend on the ruthless discipline of his campaign’s message narrative, which should be built around the intersection of the health and economic ramifications of the Covid-19 virus and the seismic effects of George Floyd’s killing on the conscience of our country. These are Trump’s biggest liabilities and should be a relentless focus of the Biden campaign.
The daily message should showcase Biden’s innate ability to project empathy, strength and knowledge in addressing these issues. Let the vice presidential nominee and other surrogates talk about everything else.
I realize Biden had to produce a lot of detailed policy plans to help him unite with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but talking policy (see Walter Mondale in 1984) will not get Biden over the finish line. Talking policy is just ammo for Trump to depict Biden as out of the mainstream for voters who dislike Trump, but need to be convinced that Biden shares their mainstream values. Biden can talk about policy when he is in the Oval Office.
Watch the map. The Biden path to victory follows both an Electoral College map and a Covid map. Four states that have seen large spikes in Covid-19 cases this summer—Florida, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina—were all lost by Hillary Clinton by roughly 5 points or less. Those states represent 81 electoral votes.
This is a math game for the Biden campaign and it needs to deploy resources judiciously. Trump beat Clinton with 306 electoral votes to her 232. If you add in the three states where Trump won by less than 1 percent—Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) and Michigan (16 electoral votes)—any combination of them and the Covid map that nets Biden 38 electoral votes would make him the next president, as long as the rest of the map stays the same.
Staying on the best path to 38 electoral votes should be the prime focus of the campaign, its deployment of resources and the candidate’s scheduling. Biden feels a deep loyalty to Democratic officials and activists around the country, for whom he was a frequent point of contact in the White House and a campaign surrogate. But he must resist their entreaties to target states that do not offer the best path for 270 electoral votes, which would deplete resources and dilute the focus of the campaign. Campaigning hard in Georgia might make sense because two U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs. If Biden can help take one of them, then Georgia makes sense as a target. However, if by mid-September both those Senate seats seem out of reach, Biden needs to concentrate on the best trajectory to 270 electoral votes even if it doesn’t include Georgia.
Focus on the present. Biden began his campaign promising to restore normalcy, but the remaining days of the race are about convincing voters that he knows how to fix what is broken. The former VP has a penchant for discussing the past—he should stop doing that. At 77, his age is also an issue for some voters and Trump has already begun the smear of painting Biden as too old, out of touch and cognitively challenged.
Biden should not talk about the past other than to having been vice president under Obama, and keep even those references to a minimum. Obama’s involvement in the campaign should be enough of a reminder of that part of Biden’s past, and Obama is not on the ballot. The Biden candidacy should not be viewed by voters as the third Obama term, which would give Trump an opportunity to relitigate the mistakes of the Obama administration.
For the past four months of Covid, the race has indeed been Trump vs. Trump. Trump has badly mishandled the coronavirus response, resulting in more than 160,000 deaths and severe disruption to the economy and record unemployment. Trump also owns his disgraceful actions surrounding the killing of George Floyd, which have driven a wedge through the nation.
Left with few options at this stage in the campaign to shift the focus from coronavirus to Biden’s vulnerabilities, Trump and his team are beating the drums to open the schools, painting Biden and the Democratic Party as bad for the economy, wrongly suggesting that Biden supports defunding the police, and claiming that Biden is not up to the job. Trump may be bad, but he plans to make Biden seem like a worse alternative by Election Day.
Winning campaigns have a better understanding of the strengths and liabilities of their opponents than the opponents themselves do. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager said it best recently when he suggested that the Biden campaign should be looking hard at all the ways they could lose this election.
The reality is that Biden has not had a tough election since his upset win for the Senate in 1972. His campaigns for president in 1988 and 2008 were not ready for prime time. This is Biden’s moment to show he knows how to win a competitive race against someone like Trump who can never be underestimated or counted out until the last votes are tallied.
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