03 Biden Trump SPLIT
CNN  — 

Behind President Donald Trump’s rhetoric railing against the expansion of vote-by-mail efforts ahead of the fall, his team is fighting to preserve the aspects of mail-in voting that they hope will offer Trump a strategic advantage.

That has included a push in various states for policies such as enhanced signature matching, requirements for people to file an application before they receive a ballot and limits to when and where mail-in ballots will be counted – things election experts have said could lead to fewer votes being counted from groups that skew Democratic.

Meanwhile, the President has begun laying the groundwork for the doubt and suspicion he could cast on election results if counting mail-in ballots ultimately delays the declaration of a winner.

“I want to have the election. But I also don’t want to have to wait for three months and then find out that the ballots are all missing and the election doesn’t mean anything. That’s what’s going to happen,” Trump said Thursday at a news conference, during which he also called vote-by-mail a “disaster” and argued people should have to cast their votes in person.

“Mail-in ballots will lead to the greatest fraud,” he said, without evidence.

But some administration officials and Republican allies have expressed frustration at Trump’s rhetoric behind closed doors – acknowledging that mail-in voting will likely be necessary and perhaps even helpful for the President in some places.

“It’s not smart,” one senior administration official said of Trump’s comments, noting the likelihood that the pandemic will make voting in-person, at least in some areas, impossible. “When we are eventually forced to have mail-in ballots, it’s our people who won’t vote because they don’t trust the system.”

In a recent CNN poll surveying voters in Arizona, Florida and Michigan, Biden supporters overwhelmingly said they would rather vote by mail than in person In Arizona, 78% of Biden backers say they would rather vote by mail, compared with 43% of Trump supporters. In Florida, 59% of Biden supporters would rather cast mail ballots vs. 19% of Trump supporters. And in Michigan, 67% of Biden supporters say they’d rather vote by mail vs. 22% of Trump backers.

Arizona and Michigan are two key states that Republican National Committee and Trump campaign officials have expressed concern over holding in November. And the worry over Trump’s fight against mail-in voting extends beyond the presidential election; multiple Republican sources stressed how this could negatively affect down-ballot GOP candidates as well.

Fighting to shape the system

Trump’s campaign and the RNC have set aside $20 million for waging election-related battles, which have ranged from challenging individual states’ laws directly to battling Democratic groups that have themselves sued to open up voting options, according to a source familiar with the campaign’s election efforts. The Trump campaign pointed to Democrats, who they say have intervened in 18 states over mail-in voting laws, and argued they have simply stepped into those legal battles to defend “election integrity.”

Their effort has spanned at least 17 states and has focused primarily on preserving restric