President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden have one last chance to make their case to voters in critical battleground states on Monday, the final full day of a campaign that has laid bare their dramatically different visions for tackling the nation’s pressing problems and for the office of the presidency itself.
The candidates are seeking to lead a nation at a crossroads, gripped by a historic pandemic that is raging anew in nearly every corner of the country and a reckoning over race. More than 93 million people have already voted and each campaign insists it has a pathway to victory, though Biden’s options for picking up the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win are more plentiful. Trump is banking on a surge of enthusiasm from his most loyal supporters.
The president’s final day has him sprinting through five rallies, from North Carolina to Wisconsin. Biden, meanwhile, was devoting most of his time to Pennsylvania, where a win would leave Trump with an exceedingly narrow path. Biden was also dipping into Ohio, a show of confidence in a state where Trump won by 8 percentage points four years ago.
Heading into the closing 24 hours, Trump and Biden each painted the other as unfit for office and described the next four years in near apocalyptic terms if the other were to win.
“The Biden plan will turn America into a prison state locking you down while letting the far-left rioters roam free to loot and burn,” Trump thundered Sunday at a rally in Iowa, one of the five he held in battleground states.
Biden said America was on the verge of putting “an end to a presidency that’s fanned the flames of hate.”
“When America is heard, I believe the message is going to be clear: It’s time for Donald Trump to pack his bags and go home,” Biden said in Philadelphia, the biggest city in a state that could decide the presidency. “We’re done with the chaos, the tweets, the anger, the hate.”
As the candidates close out the campaign, the pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 Americans and cost nearly 20 million to lose jobs, reached a new peak in infection rates, threatening yet another blow to lives and livelihoods of voters.
The election caps an extraordinary year that began with Trump’s impeachment, the near collapse of Biden’s candidacy during the crowded Democratic primary and then was fully reshaped by the coronavirus outbreak.
A record number of votes have already been cast, through early voting or mail-in ballots, which could lead to delays in their tabulation. Trump has spent months claiming without evidence that the votes would be ripe for fraud while refusing to guarantee that he would honor the election result.
In the starkest terms yet, Trump on Sunday threatened litigation to stop the tabulation of ballots arriving after Election Day. As soon as polls closed in battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania, Trump said, “we’re going in with our lawyers.”
It was unclear precisely what Trump meant. There is already an appeal pending at the Supreme Court over the counting of absentee ballots in Pennsylvania that are received in the mail in the three days after the election.
The state’s top court ordered the extension and the Supreme Court refused to block it, though conservative justices expressed interest in taking up the propriety of the three added days after the election. Those ballots are being kept separate in case the litigation goes forward. The issue could assume enormous importance if the late-arriving ballots could tip the outcome.
Under the shadow of possible legal battles, Pennsylvania loomed as most important battleground on the map.
For Biden, who lives in neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania has long been the focus of his campaign, a bulwark to block Trump from securing the electoral votes needed for reelection. Both he and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, and their spouses will crisscross the state on Monday.
But Biden’s other travel telegraphed his campaign’s hope to deliver a knockout blow to Trump that would make any Pennsylvania legal challenges essentially irrelevant.
Biden added a late stop to Ohio, a state where Trump once had a sizable lead and can’t win without. That came on the heels of the ticket’s pushes into other formerly reliable Trump strongholds like Iowa and Texas, as well as Georgia, where the Democrats’ most popular surrogate, former President Barack Obama, was set to campaign Monday.
But even as Biden enjoyed strong poll numbers, the move to expand the map revived anxiety among Democrats scarred by Trump’s 2016 upset over Hillary Clinton, whose forays into red states may have contributed to losing longtime party strongholds such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Facing a shortage of campaign cash, Trump has been unable to compete with Biden over the airwaves and has relied on rallies to fire up his base and generate media coverage.
The rallies, arguably the most dominant political force of the last five years, could draw to a close Monday with stops in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and two in Michigan. The last will be in Grand Rapids, the same city where Trump held his finale four years ago.
Trump is focusing his last rounds of stops only on states he won four years ago, playing defense in a campaign that has become a referendum on his handling of the pandemic. Both parties say the election holds outsize importance given the confluence of challenges facing the country.
Adam Jentleson, a progressive strategist and former top aide to ex-Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said Election Day lives up to the over-used political billing of being the most important of the country’s collective lifetime because it “is about restoring the basic structure of a functioning, multiracial democracy that can be responsive to the will of its people, which is something that’s gotten lost over the past couple of decades.”
Republican strategist Alice Stewart said the pandemic, the economy and race relations in America have all coincided in unprecedented ways, but that Election Day’s outcome won’t bring an immediate fix no matter what happens.
“If 2020 is the most consequential election of our lifetime, heaven help us for 2024,” Stewart said. “I’m calling Noah and will start building the ark.”