- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2020

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — President Trump is taking nothing for granted in his reelection quest, barnstorming across the country to shore up support in places he easily won in 2016 such as Iowa, Georgia and Ohio.

His campaign team is determined not to commit the same mistake Hillary Clinton made last time when she lost critical states in the upper Midwest after not-campaigning there, thinking they were in the bag.

Mr. Trump is heading to Des Moines on Wednesday despite romping to victory in Iowa by nearly 10 percentage points in 2016. It’s a far tighter race this time, with some polls even tilting the state toward Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.

“There’s a very different atmosphere than four years ago. Quite honestly, I think Iowa is a tossup right now. I really believe that it could go either way,” said Patty Judge, a former Democratic lieutenant governor of Iowa.

She said a shift toward Democrats in the suburbs and fallout from the pandemic — combined with natural disasters and the U.S.-China trade war — have created headwinds for the president.

“That is having a serious impact on his campaign. We’ve just really been through the wringer with weather, with trade disputes and with this COVID — the impact that all of this is having on our economy,” she said. “It’s just a mess and I think that is playing into this election.”

Others say Mr. Trump maintains an edge in Iowa, so the midweek trip is just another campaign stop as the president covers his bases in getting to 270 electoral votes.

“It feels very much like it did four years ago where you read a lot of stuff that gets you concerned, but internally there’s some calm because you just kind of trust their gut a bit, and think Iowa will side with Trump again,” said Craig Robinson, a GOP strategist in Iowa.

Either way, Mr. Trump isn’t taking chances after being sidelined for nearly two weeks due to a positive coronavirus test on Oct. 1 and a three-day stint at the hospital.

Instead of resting, he’s lined up an aggressive campaign schedule that veers from Pennsylvania, which he won by less than a percentage point in 2016, to a three-stop tour of the Southeast — North Carolina on Thursday and back-to-back events in Florida and Georgia on Friday.

Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University, said Mr. Trump is deploying a two-pronged strategy, fighting for states he won narrowly in 2016 while shoring up support in those places he won easily but show “clear signs of erosion.”

“These would be Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa. While Texas looks close, I can’t imagine that Biden could flip it and I don’t think he would waste precious time there,” Mr. Baker said. “North Carolina could be a cliff-hanger and he will add that to his list.”

Senior Trump campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski challenged polls showing Mr. Biden leading nationally and in several key swing states.

For example, he said Mr. Biden is running behind the average of polls for Mrs. Clinton in 2016 in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — all states that Mr. Trump won after trailing Mrs. Clinton in the final three weeks of the election.

“Our internal numbers — and we are very confident in where our numbers are — they continue to show a different story. A story that the public poll numbers aren’t articulating,” said Mr. Lewandowski. “We’re using the same methodology and the same individuals who did our polls in 2016. The polls that had us right, and the rest of the media wrong.”

Campaign manager Bill Stepien said the GOP out-registered new voters in Arizona, a swing state, by 30,000 over Democrats in the last three months and narrowed its registration deficit with Democrats in Florida to its lowest point since the 1970s.

“Getting a person to register is the single hardest activity that exists. And secondly, when you do it, it matters because new voters, they vote, especially in their first election,” he said.

Mr. Robinson said the Trump campaign’s dedication to door-knocking amid the pandemic will pay off in Iowa, while Democrats will rue their decision to rely on virtual campaigning.

“You’re replacing shoe leather with just more ads and more noise,” he said.

Yet Mr. Biden does seem to be making significant inroads in the industrial north, particularly with white voters — placing him on firmer footing than Mrs. Clinton, according to Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.

Also, he said, “that Trump is playing major defense in Iowa, Georgia, and Ohio — three states Biden does not need to win — is a sign of weakness at this point of the race.”

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon was even blunter: “The major Trump efforts in states he won decisively last time is a clear sign that the GOP is running scared.”

He noted Mr. Biden lead across several battleground states that Trump won in 2016 and new polls by the New York Times that show the Democratic nominee with high single-digit leads in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Four years ago, Mrs. Clinton notoriously lost Wisconsin and Michigan by about 23,000 and 12,000 votes, respectively, leading to finger-pointing and soul-searching within the Democratic Party.

Mr. Biden is looking to put those back into the blue column and possibly swipe Ohio, which Mr. Trump won by 8 percentage points in 2016. The race is much tighter this year.

No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio, so Mr. Trump is leaning into his trade deals and enthusiasm around the Supreme Court vacancy to make up for slippage in the suburbs or elsewhere.

Mr. Biden started the week in Cincinnati, telling union leaders and local Democrats they are the “starting gate” to winning the Buckeye State and panning Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic and economy, saying a wage gap is leaving people behind.

Mr. Biden hit a similar theme in commenting on Mr. Trump’s trip to Johnstown on Tuesday, saying the current White House is good for one-percenters in Manhattan but not blue-collar workers in central Pennsylvania.

“I will bring good-paying union jobs to communities like Johnstown, raise wages, and create economic opportunity for all Pennsylvanians,” Mr. Biden said. “And I will protect your health care and work alongside you as we rebuild a better economy — an economy that works for families in Johnstown, not just the folks on Wall Street.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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