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The 2020 presidential election will be unprecedented. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it could feature virtual conventions, no large rallies and debates without audiences.
However, the actual strategies of the campaigns of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden may end up being tried and true: Get out the most of their voters in the key states to win the electoral college.
This strategy — commonly called a “base” election or “turnout” election — is not used every election. In fact, in many elections presidential candidates rely upon such factors as incumbency or a booming or failing economy to appeal to a wide swath of voters.
In 2020, all indications are that Donald Trump will be repeating his 2016 plan of banking on high turnout of his loyalists to beat Biden in the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Ohio, and even attempt to steal the Democratic states of Minnesota and New Hampshire.
For his part, Biden can look to 2018 congressional elections as his model, where a high turnout of anti-Trump voters, including among women and minorities in many areas, delivered the U.S. House back into Democratic hands.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, while Trump still looked to be running a base election strategy, he also was stressing the then-strong economy, thus hoping to get the votes of moderate Republican and independent voters who might overlook any dislike they have for him in favor of the economic good times.
The coronavirus pandemic blew the economy up, however, and with the attempt to label COVID-19 the “Wuhan Virus,” recent tweets regarding immigration policies and calls to “liberate” certain states that apparently support protests against state stay-at-home orders, Trump looks to be going back to a pure base strategy.
This is a strategy that worked for him in 2016 in key swing states. Hillary Clinton racked up huge overall popular vote numbers, but Trump got his voters out in the states that mattered in the electoral college.
While Biden will be happy to take back any Trump voters, his most reliable path to victory is also a base strategy of getting out his voters rather than relying on unreliable swing voters. To that end, Biden has already pledged to pick a female vice president, an open acknowledgment of the power of women voters in 2018.
A key part of the Democratic base is the progressive wing, the wing that supported Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren for president in the Democratic primaries. In a base election, Biden will need those progressives to turn out in a bigger than they did in 2016 for Hillary Clinton. This factor may make Trump’s job easier than Biden’s.
Trump has a playbook from 2016 that he is already happy to repeat: Heckle and criticize all opponents, tout himself, stress such issues as immigration and nationalism, and demonize the media.
Biden’s playbook will come from 2018 and includes turning out the Democratic base plus many new or infrequent voters of all stripes who dislike Trump. These new voters will include unreliable voters, such as young people and Sanders’ supporters, many of who didn’t vote or voted third party in 2016 rather than vote for Clinton.
Biden has the tougher job, so Trump, at the moment, could be the slight favorite to win in November.
Bob Beatty is a political scientist in Topeka. He can be reached at email@example.com.