Rounding the bend after the national party conventions, the US presidential race typically enters a three-month sprint to election day, with the candidates facing off a few times to debate each other and staging boisterous rallies before crossing the finish line.
This year, with the Republican national convention wrapping up on Thursday night with Donald Trump’s fearmongering speech, and the Democratic national convention being held the week before, the home stretch is shorter than ever.
The coronavirus crisis pushed the conventions unusually late, and a record number of states are using absentee ballots to push voting unusually early.
But both Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, and Trump, the incumbent president, intend to hit some of the classic campaign notes from now until 3 November, while working behind the scenes to press their perceived advantages in a most unusual election year.
For the Biden campaign, that means organizing volunteers to coach voters on how to navigate new sets of rules in many states for voting early or voting by mail. For Trump, that means attacking the credibility of mail-in voting and discouraging turnout that his campaign fears will favor Democrats.
“The old adage in campaigns is the only resource you can never get more of is time,” said David Pepper, chairman of the Democratic party in the key swing state of Ohio, which starts in-person voting in less than 40 days. “The march toward election day is now in the home stretch.”
One purpose of the conventions was to draw battle lines, which Trump tried to do in a speech at the White House on Thursday night by attacking Biden as a “Trojan horse for socialism”.
“Always remember: they are coming after me, because I am fighting for you,” Trump said. “That’s what’s happening.”
But a relatively small proportion of the electorate – fewer than 20 million people, out of an anticipated 150 million total voters or more – tuned in to watch the conventions, meaning that both sides probably face opportunities, as well as hazards, with undecided voters in the weeks ahead.
One major crossroads will arrive with the first presidential debate, scheduled for 29 September, with two more to follow in October. The debates offer voters the first opportunity to see how the two candidates interact, and to judge them side by side.
Both campaigns intend to give voters other opportunities to encounter the candidates. In an almost unprecedented step for him this election cycle, where much of his campaigning has been online, Biden announced on Thursday that he would be holding in-person rallies in swing states including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
“But we’re going to do it in a way that is totally consistent with being responsible, unlike what this guy’s doing,” Biden said of Trump, who on Thursday night addressed about 1,500 people seated shoulder to shoulder on the South Lawn of the White House, with few masks visible in the crowd.
“I’m a tactile politician,” Biden added. “I really miss being able to, you know, grab hands, shake hands, you can’t do that now. But I can in fact appear beyond virtually, in person, in many of these places.”
Trump, who has been more aggressive than Biden about testing public health guidance in order to campaign, planned to stage a campaign mini-rally immediately after the convention, in New Hampshire on Friday evening.
Trump also plans to visit Louisiana, where Hurricane Laura wreaked widespread destruction after making landfall on Thursday with record winds.
A detour from the campaign trail by the president to handle a national emergency is not uncommon, as Barack Obama demonstrated with a visit to New Jersey in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, just before his 2012 re-election.
But the US enters the 2020 election facing an alarming array of active crises, which Trump has sought to elude responsibility for by either blaming Biden or, in the case of coronavirus, dismissing the crisis as exaggerated or contradicting his own experts by claiming things are under control.
The number of new daily Covid-19 cases detected in the United States remains above 45,000, and daily deaths have hovered above 1,000, while total deaths have surpassed 180,000, the worst record in the world.
The US has little ability to track and trace the virus as the reopening of schools nationwide seems likely to lead to new outbreaks.
The country’s economic outlook remains dire, with new unemployment…