Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are criss-crossing the US in the final days of the election campaign with a travel schedule that underscores their hopes of “flipping” Republican states such as Georgia, Iowa and Texas, which were not seen as competitive at the start of the race.
In a sign of his campaign’s growing confidence, Mr Biden on Tuesday made his first campaign stop in Georgia, a southern state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992. On Friday he will travel to Iowa, a state that President Donald Trump won by more than nine points in 2016.
Analysts said the Democrat’s visits to states that were not thought to be within his reach at the beginning of the election campaign underscored how bullish the Biden team was about its chances of victory in the closing days of the race.
Mr Biden is ahead by just 1.7 per cent in Iowa, according to a Financial Times analysis of RealClearPolitics polling data, while Joni Ernst, the state’s incumbent Republican senator, is trailing Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield in the polls. In Georgia, Mr Biden and Mr Trump are statistically tied.
“It is an acknowledgment from the Biden campaign that they think they can win those states,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Ultimately the candidate’s time is their most valuable resource, and sending [Biden] to Georgia and Iowa is a recognition that they are competitive.”
Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said: “From a strategic standpoint, if Joe Biden feels pretty comfortable, and he is now forcing the Trump campaign to spend resources to hold [Georgia], those are resources that can’t be expended someplace else.”
Ms Harris, Mr Biden’s running mate, is on Friday expected to make her first campaign visit to Texas, a Republican stronghold. Mr Biden is trailing by almost 3 points in the polls there, but some recent surveys and an explosion in early voting have made Democrats cautiously optimistic about their chances.
Mr Biden has a national lead of 8.6 points over Mr Trump, according to an FT analysis of RealClearPolitics data. But his margins are smaller in several swing states that hold the key to winning the electoral college, including Pennsylvania, where FT analysis shows Mr Biden ahead by 5.6 points.
The former US vice-president has made more trips to Pennsylvania than any other state since the Democratic National Convention in August.
Mr Trump is also visiting some battleground states that he lost to Mrs Clinton in 2016 but where his campaign says he can win this time, such as Nevada and New Hampshire. But his hectic travel schedule has been more heavily focused on Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that were crucial to his victory four years ago.
The president stopped in Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska on Tuesday, and will visit Arizona and Nevada on Wednesday. On Thursday he will hold a rally in North Carolina, a state he won by 3 points in 2016 but now appears to be tied with Mr Biden.
Mr Biden’s visits to Georgia and Iowa were also intended to provide a boost to Democrats competing in US Senate races against Republican incumbents. Democrats are seeking to reclaim control of the 100-member Senate from the Republicans, and Georgia is the only state in the US where both seats are being contested.
“Folks, I can’t tell you how important it is that we flip the United States Senate,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday evening at a drive-in rally in Atlanta. “There’s no state more consequential in that fight than Georgia. You have two competitive seats at stake and you have two great candidates.”
Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls?
Use the FT’s interactive calculator to see which states matter most in winning the presidency
Democrats’ campaign efforts have also received a boost in recent days with the return of Barack Obama, the former US president, to the campaign trail. Mr Obama is the second-most popular Democrat in the US, according to YouGov, behind Jimmy Carter, another former president.
Mr Obama campaigned for Mr Biden on Tuesday in Florida, the second time he has visited the state in less than a week. He repeated his attacks on Mr Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying: “If he had been focused on Covid from the beginning, cases would not be reaching new record highs.”
Several US states are grappling with surges in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations as temperatures drop and Americans spend more time indoors. More than 217,000 Americans have died from coronavirus this year, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
In the countdown to the 2020 election, stay on top of the big campaign issues with our newsletter on US power and politics with columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here
Get alerts on US presidential election 2020 when a new story is published