U.S. President Donald Trump is entering the final four-month stretch before Election Day presiding over a country that faces a public health crisis, mass unemployment and a reckoning over racism. His Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, is raking in cash. And a series of national and battleground polls suggests growing obstacles to Trump’s reelection.
But the election is far from locked in.
Biden and his leading supporters are stepping up warnings to Democrats to avoid becoming complacent. Former President Barack Obama and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer insist that plenty could change between now and Nov. 3 and that the party must be vigilant against Trump, who knows few boundaries when it comes to his political foes.
“We understand that what happens five months before the election and what happens at the election can be very different things,” Whitmer said.
Michigan was one of the Midwestern states that Trump carried by a razor-thin margin in 2016, helping him win the Electoral College even as he lost the popular vote. Other Democrats in the state say the strength of the president’s support shouldn’t be underestimated.
“If the election were held today, I think Biden would win Michigan,” said Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell. “But the Trump supporters are out there, and they’re still intense.”
Obama underscored that point this week during his first joint fundraiser with Biden.
“We can’t be complacent or smug or suggest that somehow it’s so obvious that this president hasn’t done a good job,” Obama told thousands of donors who gathered online. “He won once, and it’s not like we didn’t have a good clue as to how he was going to operate the last time.”
Democrats have reason to be cautious. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton was leading by wide margins nationally and in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — the very states that ultimately put Trump over the top. But in the final weeks before the election, Republicans coalesced around their nominee, leading to his upset win.
Trump is aiming for a repeat this year. He is stoking culture wars on health care and race relations. After warning that the 2016 election would be “rigged” against him, Trump said without evidence this week that the fall campaign would be the “most corrupt election ever.”
Trump and many of his GOP allies, meanwhile, are working to squelch the expansion of absentee voting, which they worry would hand Democrats an advantage, despite no evidence supporting that.
Many Republicans are quietly grim about the trends. But some are comforted by the same factors that give Democrats pause.