Biden’s COVID-19 Bet
By Jonathan Mantz
With fewer than two months until election day, Democrats are unified to defeat Donald Trump and are making a strong case for Joe Biden’s candidacy. Nothing would bring the party more joy than to echo the words that Trump made famous when he starred in The Apprentice: “You’re Fired”.
Former Vice President Biden leads in polls nationally and in six key battleground states, according to RealClearPolitics averages. While margins may be narrowing, the Biden campaign holds leads in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Arizona – all states Trump won in 2016.
But the outcome of the presidential election might turn on something tangible, even measurable: the extent to which the president did not do enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. Democratic strategists have successfully tied the severity of the pandemic to President Trump’s job performance and therefore his electoral prospects.
The bet is a good one for the Democrats. Voters tend to solidify their impressions of presidential candidates a month or so before they go to the polls (or, this year, as they mail in their ballots). COVID-19 is almost certain to remain the major problem it has been for months. In the September 13 ABC News poll, 65 percent of respondents disapproved of President Trump’s handling of COVID-19, 67 percent believed President Trump’s responsiveness to the virus was too slow, and Joe Biden had a 20 percentage point advantage over the president regarding who the public trusts in handling the virus.
While both Democrats and Republicans want this terrible scourge to end, Democrats will continue to make the point that the situation is due to President Trump’s inaction. Indeed, Biden and his backers have a compelling story. They say, simply, “Look at the numbers.” They mean the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, unemployment, failed businesses, and students whose schooling has been interrupted.
Voters’ belief about the trajectory of those numbers – especially the voters who are still undecided – will play a significant role in who wins the White House in November. The situation might improve in the coming weeks, but voters’ opinions about the pandemic – and the responsibility for it – could already be locked in.
Many Americans yearn for a president who can lead through the tough times, tell the truth and unite the country and not blame others when the going gets tough. It may very well be that because of Trump’s handling, or mishandling, of the pandemic, Joe Biden will be taking the oath of office in January.
Jonathan Mantz, a principal at BGR Group, a leading bipartisan lobbying and communications firm, is a member of the DNC’s National Finance Committee, a former finance director of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and an alumnus of the Democratic fundraising committees for both the Senate and the House.