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Handicapping the Presidential Election: Amy Walter

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There may be two candidates in the upcoming presidential election, but the race is “entirely about President Trump,” who “needs a lot going his way” to win it, said Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report, at Morningstar’s virtual 2020 conference.

Trump is in a better place now than in July, with the gap between him and former Vice President Joe Biden narrowing from 9 points to between 6 and 8 points, but he is challenged by an approval rating between 42% and 43% and two-thirds of the country saying it’s headed in the wrong direction, according to Walter.

“All of these numbers are very, very dangerous. We’ve never seen a president re-elected with those three numbers combined; certainly just one of those three would mark a real, real challenge in coming back and winning reelection … The president is in a precarious position. He needs a lot going his way.”

Walter said if Biden retains a 6- to 8-point lead, that’s enough to deliver an Electoral College win. If that lead shrinks, Trump could prevail again.

Walter gives more than 50% odds that Democrats will regain control of the Senate with 50 seats (and the vice president breaking ties) or 51, likely followed by Democrats abandoning the filibuster or adopting some rule changes that could help strengthen their position.

The big battlegrounds for Senate Democrats are Georgia, which has two races (one a special election), North Carolina, Arizona, Colorado and Maine, Walter said.

Her crib sheet for election night includes a focus on Florida and North Carolina. “If Biden wins both, it will be all but impossible for Trump to win. If Trump wins both, he has a good chance to win.”

Walter is concerned that if there are no clear winners on election night, conspiracy theories will be knocking around online, damaging the integrity of the election and the presidency, which “once damaged is hard to get people to trust them again.”

She expects a record turnout in the presidential election with many voting early and by mail. Even then, some states like Florida could have results on election night because early votes and mail-in votes are counted before Election Day, but others will take awhile to release results, Walter said.

Before Election Day there will be three presidential debates, the first one on Sept. 29. Trump’s strategy of name-calling Biden “Sleepy Joe” ironically lowers the bar for Biden’s performance, Walter said.

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