Traditionally the launch of the presidential race’s intense final stages, Labor Day this year has assumed an outsized starting-gun quality as both candidates begin fervent in-person attempts to mobilize voters while the contours of the contest quickly harden.
“Look at how he steps and look at how I step,” Biden said Monday when asked by a local television station in Pennsylvania about Trump’s accusation that he’s “lost a step.” “Watch how I run up ramps and how he stumbles down ramps, OK?”
Biden hopes to turn the election into a referendum on Trump’s character — in part by allowing the President’s words and actions to speak for themselves. His socially distanced meeting on a patch of grass in a supporter’s backyard, followed by a virtual meeting at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, did not seem designed to make a splash.
Against the backdrop of a life-altering pandemic that has drastically changed how each man planned to run, the race enters its final two months under historic unpredictability.
The very nature of voting has changed, leading to false accusations by the President of a rigged contest, his repeated suggestions that voters illegally cast ballots twice and the likelihood that a winner won’t be known on November 3.
“People are going to get ballots. They’re going to say, ‘What am I doing?’ And then they’re going to harvest. They’re going to do all the things,” Trump said Monday, without much elaboration.
“I’d want to see what the scientists said,” Biden said when questioned whether he would get such a vaccination before November’s election.
And new revelations about the President’s alleged disrespect for American military service members are a reminder that in the Trump era, damning insider accounts are around every bend.
“I’m not saying the military is in love with me. The soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t, because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy,” Trump said.
Polls stay static
Advertising decisions by each campaign offer at least a glimpse of the race’s current state. The Trump campaign canceled some advertising in Pennsylvania and Ohio for the week starting September 8 but increased ads in Georgia and Florida the week after, according to data from the ad tracking service CMAG.
Overall, the Trump campaign is spending just more than $50 million on advertising in the month of September, as of Monday’s reservation changes.
Biden is spending about $70 million on advertising in September. For the week starting Tuesday, he increased spending in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The President travels Tuesday to Florida for an event marking his environmental conservation record before convening a rally inside an airport hangar in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — a state where voters can already fill out absentee ballots and that Trump will have visited twice in the span of six days.
Later in the week Trump visits Michigan — which like Florida and North Carolina helped power his victory in 2016 but where polls now show him either trailing or tied with Biden.
Biden will also visit Michigan this week and both men will commemorate the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in Shanksville, Pennsylvania — though it’s not yet known if they’ll encounter each other while there.
Playing to the base
The convergence of Biden, Trump, Harris and Pence in the upper Midwest is hardly an accident, nor are Trump’s recent attempts to shore up base supporters using appeals to White grievance.
Trump has made championing nascent culture wars a central aspect of his political persona and has scaled up his efforts in recent days. He instructed the White House budget chief to withdraw funding from federal agencies for racial sensitivity training that he deemed “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
He also threatened to pull funding from public schools that teach an interpretation of US history that uses the arrival of the first slave ships on American shores to reframe traditional narratives.
The actions seem to codify Trump’s dismissive views of systemic racism, which he says isn’t a worthy area of focus, while violence persists on American streets.
“We grew up with a certain history and now they’re trying to change our history,” Trump said Monday underneath the White House North Portico, where he had convened his Labor Day news conference.