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Trump Mostly Plays Defense as Biden Looks to Expand Electoral Map

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 10/27/2020 Rebecca Ballhaus, Joshua Jamerson, Eliza Collins
Joe Biden, Donald Trump are posing for a picture © Drew Angerer and Spencer Platt/Getty Images

WARM SPRINGS, Ga.—Democrats are betting they can expand the electoral map in the final week of the 2020 campaign with a late foray into several traditionally GOP-leaning states, leaving President Trump largely playing defense in many battlegrounds he won four years ago.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday traveled to Georgia, a state that has voted for the GOP nominee in every presidential election since 1992. Later in the week he will head to Iowa, which Mr. Trump won in 2016 by a sizable margin after former President Barack Obama won it twice. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will travel to Texas and Arizona later this week, states that voted for Republicans for the last 10 and five campaign cycles, respectively.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is traveling this week to at least five states he won in 2016 and that are key to a victory this time around. He held three campaign rallies on Monday in Pennsylvania, which he narrowly won in 2016 and where polls now show Mr. Biden ahead by an average of 4.5 points, according to Real Clear Politics. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump was scheduled to hold rallies in Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska, where an Omaha-area district that awards one electoral vote could prove key in a very close contest. Mr. Trump won the district by 2.3 percentage points in 2016, and the Omaha media market includes a portion of neighboring Iowa.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump will hold two rallies in Arizona, one of which is just outside Nevada, a state Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016. A New York Times/Siena poll of Nevada released Tuesday showed Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump by 6 percentage points among likely voters. Ms. Harris was set to appear Tuesday in Reno and Las Vegas.

With Election Day a week out, 62.7 million early ballots have been cast so far, according to the Associated Press. That surpasses the early-vote tally four years ago, when 58.8 million people cast early or mail-in ballots.

Mr. Trump has projected confidence. In a rally in Lansing, Mich., later Tuesday—the first of three rallies Tuesday—he predicted a “great red wave” and told the crowd: “I gotta say, I’m working my ass off here.”

“If he wins where he won last time, he gets re-elected by a wide margin,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh, who noted the president’s recent travel to Minnesota, New Hampshire and Nevada—states where Mrs. Clinton won in 2016 and where Mr. Biden leads in polls now. “We strongly encourage Joe Biden to waste time and resources in Georgia, where he has no chance of winning.”

Mr. Biden is also spending some time this week on offense, traveling to Pennsylvania on Monday and to Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan later in the week. But the former vice president’s campaign is making a risky bet by spending time in the final stretch aiming to flip Republican strongholds like Texas and Georgia. If he wins, Mr. Biden will be hailed for his strategy; if he loses, he will likely be criticized by fellow Democrats—as Mrs. Clinton later was over a visit to Arizona in the final days of the 2016 campaign—for not focusing on shoring up the battleground states that are crucial to his victory.

On Monday, Mr. Biden said he would keep the focus on the traditionally blue Midwestern states that Democrats lost in 2016 and where he is leading in polls now. “The blue wall has to be re-established,” he said.

Some voters in Georgia acknowledged it was rare to see a Democrat campaigning for president in the state. “I’m surprised he’s this far south,” said Sally Jordan, 69 years old, a retiree from Talbotton, Ga., who attended Mr. Biden’s event. She said Mr. Biden had the best shot at winning the state of any Democrat in years, but still thought Mr. Trump would prevail.

Mark Wilkerson, a business agent for the Service Employees International Union focused on the southern region, said he believes Georgia is winnable for Democrats, in part because of the pandemic. “People are tired of being afraid and I think with Joe Biden that gives some calmness to the situation,” he said.

In the final stretch, the Biden campaign has worked to keep the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus in the forefront for voters, who say the pandemic is a top concern along with the economy, according to Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling.

Mr. Biden’s Tuesday remarks in Warm Springs, Ga., were as much about where he was as what he said. The town is tiny—with about 400 residents, according to the last census—but it was home to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s getaway during his presidency. Mr. Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, and a museum there focuses heavily on the New Deal.

“This place, Warm Springs, is a reminder that though broken, each of us can be healed. That as a people, and a country, we can overcome this devastating virus,” Mr. Biden said, adding that as president he would unite a polarized nation, which he said was battling three crises: a widespread pandemic, an economic collapse and a reckoning on racial justice.

Mr. Biden’s visit to Georgia was intended to bolster more than just his own race. Georgia’s two Senate seats are up this cycle and could decide whether Democrats win a majority in the Senate. Both races have been rated as tossups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. There is also a competitive race in Iowa as first-term GOP Sen. Joni Ernst faces a tough and well-funded Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield.

“I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate. There’s no state more consequential than Georgia in that fight,” Mr. Biden told supporters Tuesday evening in Atlanta. To capture the Senate majority, Democrats need to net three Senate seats with a Biden win or four seats if Mr. Trump is re-elected.

Mr. Trump won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by 5 percentage points in 2016, but polls in recent months show the race tightening. The president now leads by less than 1 percentage point in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden’s most prominent surrogate, hit the campaign trail for him in Orlando, Fla., for a drive-in rally outside the Camping World Stadium. The former president slammed Mr. Trump for playing down the severity of the virus, which has surged in recent weeks in much of the U.S.

“He wants full credit for an economy that he inherited. He wants zero blame for the pandemic he ignored. But you know what, the job doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to be responsible 24/7,” he said.

Mr. Obama noted that Mr. Trump has said the media is overplaying the virus. “Covid, Covid, Covid, he’s complaining. He’s jealous of Covid’s media coverage,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Trump has made part of his closing argument on the coronavirus that the news media is exaggerating the pandemic’s severity to hurt him politically, predicting the story will fade from view if Mr. Biden wins the election.

In a series of tweets Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump accused the news media of being overly fixated on a global pandemic that has killed nearly 226,000 people in the U.S. alone. “Until November 4th., Fake News Media is going full on Covid, Covid, Covid. We are rounding the turn. 99.9%,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

The seven-day average of new cases reached an all-time high of 68,767 on Monday. The total case count in the U.S. is more than 8.7 million. On Monday, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the U.S. surpassed 40,000 for the sixth day in a row, levels last seen in August.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Joshua Jamerson at joshua.jamerson@wsj.com and Eliza Collins at eliza.collins@wsj.com.

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