Trump campaign officials are counting on Republican voter registration gains in key swing states and a massive ground game that has volunteers knocking on 3 million doors per week to overcome Democrat Joseph R. Biden’s lead in public polls in the final two weeks of the race.
In Florida, Republicans’ aggressive voter registration operation has narrowed Democrats’ advantage to 134,000 — the lowest in more than 30 years and down from 327,000 in 2016. The Republican Party added 50,000 voters in the final two weeks alone before registration closed Oct. 5.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican Party has added 174,000 voters since 2016, and Democrats have lost 31,000 registered voters. When President Obama won the state in 2012, Democrats had an advantage of 1.13 million in party registration. Now that’s down to 710,000.
In North Carolina, Republicans have gained 100,000 voters since 2016, while Democrats have lost about 136,000.
In Arizona, Republicans have added about 30,000 more voters than Democrats since mid-August.
Those trends are encouraging to Trump campaign officials because Donald Trump won all four states in 2016 despite bigger disadvantages in voter registration. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee continued their ground operations through the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats largely pulled back in favor of digital outreach.
“Republicans’ portion of the electorate has swung violently in Republicans’ favor since Election Day 2016 in nearly every battleground state,” said Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien. “Importantly, we have seen a surge in registrations in Republicans’ favor down the homestretch over the last few weeks and months of the campaign.”
The Trump team says tens of thousands of newly registered Republican voters in each state don’t show up in polling that has consistently shown Mr. Biden leading. They say the omission contributes to skewing in favor of the Democrat.
“First-time voters are not ‘likely’ voters, as far as the pollsters are concerned,” Rep. Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania Republican, said Wednesday. “There’s a gap there.”
The president’s series of campaign rallies also has been an important source of new registrations. As many as 3 in 10 people at some Trump rallies have never voted.
But there is evidence that Democrats are turning out new voters in strong numbers. TargetSmart, a Democratic analytics firm, said about 7.3 million infrequent and first-time voters had cast their ballots as of Oct. 13 — more than twice the number four years ago. The firm estimates that these voters lean Democratic by 16 percentage points.
David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, told The Associated Press that Republicans were “cherry picking” voter registration statistics but said, “Democrats are taking nothing for granted and pulling out all the stops to reach every voter we need.”
Despite the promising voter registration trends for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party, some analysts and pollsters say they won’t be enough to reelect the president.
Political analyst Charlie Cook, speaking at an Economic Club of Washington event Wednesday, predicted that Mr. Biden will win the election with “closer to 400 than 300” electoral votes. A candidate needs 270 to win. Mr. Cook also said Republicans will lose their majority in the Senate.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres said Trump campaign officials are “doing what they should be doing, and it will be helpful. The question is whether that’s enough to get out of the hole that they’re in right now.”
“It’s hard to spin the data you’re seeing as somehow an advantage for Donald Trump right now,” Mr. Ayres said in an interview. “There are at least twice as many swing states today as there were in 2016. And the additions … are all states that Donald Trump won, usually by comfortable margins, like Iowa, Ohio, Georgia.”
Predicting record voter turnout of as much as 150 million this year, up from 137 million in 2016, Mr. Ayres said the president’s best hope in the final two weeks of the campaign will be “redefining the race.”
“Donald Trump’s best scenario was making this contest a choice between Donald Trump and an unacceptable alternative,” he said. “But both he and Joe Biden have done an excellent job of making this a referendum on Donald Trump’s leadership. That’s a far more difficult race to win.”
He said the president’s relentless attack on Mr. Biden and son Hunter claiming corruption is “the latest attempt” to deflect voters’ attention from “the issue that’s consuming all Americans, which is the pandemic and its effects on our economy, education system, entertainment and sports life.”
“The law-and-order message worked among Republicans only, but not among anybody else,” Mr. Ayres said. “So they might as well try Hunter Biden.”
Republican pollster Frank Luntz told a British firm in a briefing this week that Mr. Trump’s advisers have “their heads up their asses” if they think Hunter Biden will be a winning issue for them. He said voters are far more concerned about jobs and the pandemic.
The Trump campaign and the RNC also are banking on their army of 2.5 million volunteers, who were on the ground working a year before Mr. Biden was even nominated, to boost turnout in key states. The operation could make a difference in regions such as the Florida Panhandle, a traditionally Republican territory that has been growing rapidly in population.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the Trump team made more than 10 million voter contacts last week alone.
“That’s the most voter contacts we’ve done to date, knocking on over 3 million doors,” she said. “So the ground game is up and running. We know Biden’s trying to kick-start that right now. He’s way behind on that.”
Turnout is being scrutinized more than ever this year because of expanded early voting and mail-in ballot options in many states to guard against spreading the coronavirus. Both sides are claiming advantages with more than 41 million Americans having voted already — 29 million by mail, nearly 12 million in person.
Mr. Stepien said the side winning in voter registration will have an edge in turnout because new voters are more motivated.
“The first vote anyone casts in an election year is on a voter registration card,” Mr. Stepien said. “It matters, and new registrants vote. We know that.”
Of the people who have voted to date, 52% are Democrats, 26% are Republican and 21% have no party affiliation, according to the United States Elections Project. Democrats are returning ballots at a rate of 36.5%, Republicans at 28.4%, the group said.
Mr. Stepien has said repeatedly that Democrats are not hitting their goals for mail-in balloting and Republican voters are more likely to turn out on Nov. 3.
Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who runs the Elections Project, made a similar observation in his report Oct. 11.
“I predict in the coming weeks the Democratic narrative will change from euphoria over the apparent large leads in early voting to concern that a disproportionately large number of younger voters have yet to return their mail ballots,” he wrote.
Ryan Hurst of Florida Forward Action, a political group allied with the Democratic Party, said last week that Democrats in the state had returned more mail-in ballots by Oct. 16 than during the entire 2016 election. But he expressed concern on Twitter that there were “still about 1.5 Million [ballots] sitting on kitchen tables… Send them in!”
Mr. Ayres, the pollster, said Democrats’ lead in early voting isn’t surprising.
“We’ve known all along the Democrats are far more likely to vote early. Republicans, because of the president’s criticism of mail balloting, are far more likely to vote in person on Election Day,” he said. “Republicans just need to hope that the pandemic doesn’t spike so much by then that it discourages particularly Republican seniors from going to the polls in person.”
Mr. Kelly, who represents a congressional district in northwestern Pennsylvania where the president held a rally Tuesday night, said he is certain that Trump supporters’ enthusiasm will carry the day.
“When people take time to paint the sides of their barns, when people take time to paint their cars and park them on the berm, that is more than an enthusiasm gap,” he said. “People love him. This president is stronger than 10 acres of garlic.”