- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2020

President Trump’s campaign launched an ad blitz Monday to define Democrat Joseph R. Biden as a tool of the radical left, part of new campaign manager Bill Stepien’s urgent shift in strategy to refocus on states with expanded early voting.

The anti-Biden ads in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina aired as Mr. Stepien also called on Mr. Biden to take part in more debates, noting that 16 states will begin voting before the first scheduled presidential debate on Sept. 29.

Some prominent voices on the left are urging the presumptive Democratic nominee to skip the debates altogether, saying he has a double-digit lead in polls and has nothing to gain by sharing a stage with the president.

With less than three months before Election Day, Mr. Trump is trying to surmount some of the biggest challenges ever to confront an incumbent, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst economic collapse in history in the second quarter of the election year.

The president is trailing Mr. Biden by double digits in most national public polls, although the campaign says those polls are inaccurate. A Rasmussen Reports survey on Monday showed the two candidates in a statistical tie.

The new Trump ads in early voting battleground states reflect a shift in direction from Mr. Stepien, who has been reevaluating the campaign’s strategy since the president tapped him two weeks ago to replace Brad Parscale.

“The countdown clock may show 91 days left in the race, but in reality the election starts a lot sooner than that,” Mr. Stepien said in a statement Monday. “In many states, more than one-half of voters will cast their votes before Election Day, and we have adjusted our strategy to reflect that.”

He noted that the campaign paused advertising for several days last week while undertaking a review of its tactics and said the revised plan is a “smarter, more strategic approach that recognizes the staggered calendar presented in the 2020 election.”

Former Trump campaign aide and ex-White House staffer Brad Rateike, a Republican Party consultant, praised the campaign shake-up, especially Mr. Stepien’s choices of Justin Clark as deputy campaign manager and Matt Morgan as campaign counsel.

“They are people who I think are willing to tell the president what he needs to hear, not necessarily what he wants to know,” Mr. Rateike said of the three campaign operatives in an interview. “It’s not a secret that sometimes giving the president news that things aren’t as rosy always as he likes them to be is not a fun job, but they’re willing to do that.”

One of the Trump campaign’s new ads says Mr. Biden “has embraced the policies of the radical left” and highlights his support for increasing taxes and redirecting police funding.

The other ad, alluding to Mr. Trump’s banking on a “silent majority” to propel him to victory, features a Trump supporter silently displaying cue cards to register her displeasure with Mr. Biden.

“I’m afraid to say this out loud,” one card reads. “I won’t risk my children’s future with Biden.”

Mr. Stepien said the campaign will also entail a national TV buy.

“Ballots will be in the hands of North Carolina voters in 33 days — we want to make sure [that] as voters have live absentee ballots on their kitchen tables that the images seen in that ad are ingrained and on people’s minds as they make their decision for this upcoming election,” Mr. Stepien said in his first appearance on “Fox & Friends.”

Either in-person voting or mail-in balloting will begin in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — all crucial swing states — by the end of next month.

The Biden campaign said the Trump team’s efforts are based on “recycled lies” and that the president’s campaign is locked in a cycle of “bimonthly, shambolic message ‘resets.’”

“Our nation’s capacity to join the rest of the world in beating back COVID-19 has been crippled by one overriding burden: Donald Trump,” said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates.

The new Trump campaign manager also jabbed at the Biden campaign for making ill-advised decisions on where to spend its cash.

“Joe Biden is continuing to spend millions of dollars a week in states that won’t come online for two months, and we encourage him to keep at it,” Mr. Stepien said.

Underscoring the difficulties for the president this year, a poll in Ohio on Monday gave Mr. Biden a 4-point, 46% to 42%, lead over Mr. Trump among registered voters. Unlike other surveys, the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research/University of Akron poll also showed Mr. Biden with an edge in enthusiasm among his supporters.

Almost 31% said they strongly support the former vice president, compared with 26% who said they strongly support Mr. Trump.

Ohio has been a regular bellwether in presidential elections, breaking for the ultimate winner in every post-World War II race except 1960. The president will visit Clyde, Ohio, on Thursday to tour a Whirlpool manufacturing plant and hold a fundraiser. It will be his 16th trip to the state.

Trump advisers think the president will beat Mr. Biden handily in the debates, which they believe will show the Democrat as slow on his feet and having lost some of his energy.

They also believe the debates provide some of the best opportunities for Mr. Trump to define Mr. Biden as a tax-raising lump of clay to be molded by the most extreme elements in his party on issues such as the Green New Deal and defunding police.

Until recently, Trump campaign officials promised to make sure that voters understand that Mr. Biden is weak on China. Mr. Stepien didn’t mention the subject Monday in his “Fox & Friends” appearance.

The status of the debates also shows how the dynamic of the race has shifted. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and when the economy was strong, Mr. Trump was sounding as if he might not debate at all. Now, Mr. Stepien wants more debates than the three organized by the long-running commission that organizes them.

“We want more debates, we want debates starting sooner,” Mr. Stepien said. He said the first debate, scheduled for Sept. 29, will come too late for some voters. “By that time, 16 states will already have been voting. That’s a concern to me. I want to see President Trump on the debate stage.”

The president also has been stymied by an inability to hold in-person campaign rallies, forums with good ratings in which he could portray Mr. Biden in colorfully damaging terms. Mr. Trump has not held a rally since June 20 because off concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

Instead, the president has been holding “tele-rallies” on the phone with swing-state supporters, targeting voters in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to date. Those calls have reached tens of thousands of supporters, campaign officials say.

Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, also has been canceled because of coronavirus concerns. Officials are still working out the details of how and where the president will deliver that speech on Aug. 27.

The president also is saturating the airwaves with interviews. He will appear on Fox Business Network with Lou Dobbs on Tuesday to discuss school reopenings, China and the election.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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