With just 65 days until the 2020 election, it will be here before you know it. Every Sunday, I will deliver to your inbox the five BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked – so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week.
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5. Back to school in a pandemic:
Within the next two weeks (or so), the country will have fully returned to school. In many states that means kids will be back at school in person even as, in most places, the coronavirus continues to spread faster than any attempts at contact tracing can track it.
President Donald Trump and his conservative allies have been unequivocal in their support for sending children back into the classroom. “To open up America, we’ve got to open up America’s schools,” Vice President Mike Pence said at a White House event earlier this month aimed at ramping up pressure on schools to reopen.
While college campuses have already begun to be incubators for the virus – 26,000 cases across more than 750 colleges and universities, according to figures collected by The New York Times – it remains to be seen how K-12 education will fare, especially in areas where students are back in the classroom.
This could have a major impact on the fall campaign. Trump, as the GOP convention last week made clear, is working to put the coronavirus behind him – arguing that things are much improved and he saved lots of lives with his decision to restrict travel from China and Europe.
If a number of elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are forced to shut down in the coming days and weeks, it becomes very, very hard for Trump to make that case. And with a majority of Americans already disapproving of how he has handled Covid-19, a series of high-profile outbreaks with sick kids and teachers might well doom any chances he has of making a comeback between now and November 3.
4. A HUGE Democratic primary:
On Tuesday, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III face off in a Democratic primary that has dredged up all sorts of ongoing fights within the party.
Markey, at 74, is a senior statesman within the party and has emerged in Trump’s presidency as a liberal favorite. He has endorsements from, among others, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Kennedy is, well, a Kennedy. He holds the 8th District seat his father – Joe Kennedy II, the son of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy – represented for more than a decade. At 39 years old, he is making the case for generational change in the Bay State, and recently secured the endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California).
While the assumption in the race was that Kennedy III would win – because, duh, he is a Kennedy in Massachusetts – it now appears that Markey is the favorite going into Tuesday’s vote.
In the last three polls released in the race, Markey has led by 10, 7 and 12 points respectively – making major gains from even a month ago when the two men were in a statistical dead heat.
Should Markey win, it will be the latest in a string of victories for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party including defeating Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Lacy Clay (D-Missouri) in primaries this year.
And, while Markey-Kennedy is the marquee race, keep an eye on House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who faces his own serious primary challenge from his ideological left.
3. Biden set to emerge:
While former Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t been, as Trump suggests, hiding in his basement for the last few months, it’s also true that he has kept a very conservative schedule during the Covid-19 pandemic.
That is set to change in the coming days, according to the Biden campaign, as the former VP will return to the campaign trail – traveling to swing states and meeting with voters in this critical stretch run of the race.
That move comes as Democratic fretting – a perennial condition – has increased of late as some polls suggest Trump made modest gains in the general election polling.
As CNN’s Maeve Reston wrote over the weekend:
“Though Biden plans to step up his events in battleground states, some Democrats are worried that he could lose his edge as Trump touches off a robust schedule of campaigning to remind Americans that the economy was roaring before the pandemic hit, while rewriting history on his response to the virus.”
The few times Biden has campaigned – or granted interviews – over the past few months have not yielded terribly positive results. He made waves by telling Charlamagne tha God that “you aint’ Black” if you weren’t already voting for Biden.
More Biden campaign travel means more exposure to the media and more potential for gaffes. And the more gaffes Biden makes, the less the race is a pure referendum on the current President.
2. Did Trump get a convention bounce?:
Republicans are working hard to make the case that the President received a major polling boost from his four-day convention last week, pulling himself much closer to Biden.
In the space of a few hours Sunday morning, Trump retweeted 13 tweets from the “@PollWatch2020” Twitter handle. (The handle has no obvious affiliation with a person or polling company; “Following the 2020 elections closely,” is the only description.)
“Moving along nicely,” Trump tweeted of a Democracy Institute poll showing him leading Biden released over the weekend. “MAGA!” (Note: The Democracy Institute poll does not meet CNN’s standards.)
Trump’s tweets aside, however, there’s not a ton of evidence out there of a major (or even minor) Trump surge. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday morning showed Trump’s approval rating at just 31%, roughly the same as the 32% approval he had prior to the start of the Democratic convention earlier this month.
There’s no head-to-head, post-convention polls out there just yet – at least none that meet CNN’s standards. Those will likely come this week, but if the ABC/Ipsos poll is an early indicator, don’t expect any major bounce for the incumbent.
1. “Protests” vs. “riots”:
To hear Trump and his allies tell it, the situations unfolding in Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, in response to several high-profile shootings by the police of Black men is rioting, plain and simple.
“In the strongest possible terms the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities all, like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and New York, many others, Democrat-run,” Trump said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week. “There’s violence and danger in the streets of many Democrat-run cities throughout America.”
At a rally in New Hampshire Friday night, Trump went even further. “You know what I say about protesters? Protesters, your ass,” he said. “I don’t talk about my ass. They’re not protesters, those are anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.”
Trump’s efforts to label what is happening in major cities as “riots” speaks at least somewhat to his desperation, politically speaking, at the moment.
As CNN’s Harry Enten noted Sunday, Trump’s numbers tumbled following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in late May and the unrest that followed across the country.
“Peaceful protests dominated the news, race relations jumped in importance in the voters’ minds and support for the Black Lives Matter movement rose to a majority,” writes Enten.
Trump, sensing that the race is slipping from him, has latched on to the events following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha earlier this month as a sign not of peaceful protests but of radical leftists rioting and destroying cities.
The President’s planned trip to Kenosha on Tuesday will give him a huge platform to make that case. “He will meet with law enforcement and survey damage from recent riots,” according to the pool report announcing the trip. (That bolding is mine.)
“He’ll use that grieving city as a backdrop for his campaign of fear,” predicted former Obama senior political adviser and CNN contributor David Axelrod. “In Trump’s perverse political calculus, division equals addition.”
Yup. And making sure people view what is happening in the country as “riots” rather than “protests” is a key part of Trump’s comeback strategy.