In the final days before a presidential election, the most telling signal of how things are going is not the bravado and bluster you hear from the campaigns, but the tactical decisions they make about where to deploy in the precious time that remains.
If candidates and their top surrogates show up in unexpected places, it can be a sign for good or ill. Right now, indications suggest President Trump’s team sees itself in a dire situation, while former vice president Joe Biden’s is sensing not only a victory but also the possibility of a rout.
Trump is filling his days with big, in-person rallies in defiance of the surge in covid-19 cases. But with few exceptions — such as last weekend’s stop at an airport in New Hampshire, a state that he lost by a hair’s breadth in 2016 — they have been in territory he should be able to take for granted. It is a defensive strategy, not one that suggests the president sees big opportunities to expand the playing field.
Since he spoke in Charlotte at the Republican National Convention in August, the president has traveled seven times to North Carolina, a state he won in 2016. But it is telling that he is spending more time than he should have to stumping in more conservative, rural areas and small towns. “Those are the people he shouldn’t have to worry about,” says Harrison Hickman, a Democratic pollster with long experience in the state.
Biden has been traveling far less, but he is stepping up his schedule. He and his top surrogates are also going deeper into what is normally red territory, as evidenced by his campaign’s announcement on Monday that the former vice president will be heading at the end of the week to Iowa, a state Trump carried by nearly 10 points in 2016.
But flipping red states to blue is not the only reason campaigns might make these decisions. I, for one, am skeptical that my home state of Texas will end up in the Democratic presidential column, absent a national landslide of a proportion not indicated by the current polling. But sending Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), the party’s vice-presidential nominee, there at the end of the week makes sense for other reasons. The state is seeing massive early voter turnout, and many Democrats there believe they are within reach of taking control of the Texas House by picking up at least nine of the chamber’s 150 seats.
That would break the grip that Republicans have had over all the levers of power in the state since 2003 and could have enormous consequences for once-a-decade redistricting next year, which is expected to see Texas pick up three additional seats in the U.S. House.
Harris reportedly plans to make a stop in Houston, which would also send a reassuring signal to the oil industry that Biden’s proposed “transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy would not come too quickly. And her swing through Texas