Election 2024: Where the Presidential Race Stands With Six Months to Go
from The Water's Edge

Election 2024: Where the Presidential Race Stands With Six Months to Go

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: Joe Biden and Donald Trump remain locked in a tight contest where third-party candidates could decide the outcome.
A mail-in ballot box is shown at the polls as Democrats and Republicans hold their presidential primary election in Boulder City, Nevada on February 6, 2024.
A mail-in ballot box is shown at the polls as Democrats and Republicans hold their presidential primary election in Boulder City, Nevada on February 6, 2024. Ronda Churchill/REUTERS

Election Day is now less than six months away. In some states, voting begins in just over four months. So where do things stand?

For all the sturm und drang of the past year on the election front—and the countless news analyses, articles, op-eds, interviews, speeches, and blog posts—little has changed in the basic structure of the presidential race. Joe Biden and Donald Trump continue to run neck-in-neck in the national polls, while the outcome will likely be decided by what happens in seven battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. How those races break will depend on whose voters turn out and whose stay home.

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Biden is seeking to turn out his voters by stressing how he has delivered for them while simultaneously reminding them why they sent Trump packing four years ago. Biden’s problem is that many voters say they are worse off now than they were four years ago, even if economic statistics show the opposite. Compounding the problem is that voters appear to know little about the legislative achievements that Biden is trumpeting. Meanwhile, many Americans look more kindly on Trump’s presidency than they did in 2020, a reassessment no doubt aided by Trump’s success in delaying three of his four criminal trials from starting.

Trump’s pitch to voters is that Biden promised competence and delivered chaos. The crisis at the southern border leads Trump’s critique, joined by complaints that the economy is a “cesspool” that is unleashing “record horrible inflation” reminiscent of Weimar Germany. But Trump is also hammering Biden for mishandling Ukraine, Gaza, Afghanistan, and a range of other foreign policy crises. He won’t be doing so because these issues matter to large numbers of voters—polls continue to show that foreign policy falls way down the list of issues that worry the public—but because they fuel his narrative that Biden is not up for the job.

The two wild cards in all this—besides events, which can always upend a race—are abortion and third-party candidates. Democrats have outperformed in a range of a congressional and state races ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, often in ways that outpaced what pre-race polls predicted. Democrats hope that trend will be repeated on November 5.

The other wild card is third-party candidates. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jill Stein, and Cornel West are not going to win the Electoral College. They could, however, determine who does. Kennedy has the greatest potential to tilt the election outcome given his name recognition and surprising strength in the national polls. But so far, he has made the ballot in just one state where the race is likely to be close—Michigan—though that could and likely will change before voters go to the poll. The question that keeps the Biden and Trump campaigns up at night is who Kennedy is most likely to take votes from.

Does this mean that the election will invariably be a photo finish? No, undecideds could break for either candidate and turn a nail-biter into a rout. By the same token, 2024 could produce a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College. That would throw the decision on who will be the next president to House of Representatives. That hasn’t happened since 1824, when the House chose John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson, the candidate who won the most popular votes.

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So buckle up. A lot can happen in six months.

Campaign Update

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. challenged Trump to a head-to-head debate later this month at the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, DC.

The Kennedy campaign announced this week that he has made the presidential ballot in Delaware, Biden’s home state, as a candidate of the Independent Party. Kennedy is now officially on the ballot in five states. The others are California, Hawaii, Michigan, and Utah. Michigan is the only state so far where Kennedy’s candidacy looks as if it could tilt the outcome to either Biden or Trump.

The Candidates in Their Own Words

Biden visited Racine, Wisconsin, on Wednesday to tout Microsoft’s decision to invest $3.3 billion of its own money to build a new data center for artificial intelligence work. The Microsoft project is being built on the site where Trump in 2017 promised that the electronics firm Foxconn would spend $10 billion to build a factory that he described as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Biden didn’t miss the opportunity to argue that Trump was all bluster and no product: “He and his administration promised a $10 billion investment by Foxconn… He came here with your senator, Ron Johnson, literally holding a golden shovel, promising to build the ‘eighth wonder of the world’… They dug a hole with those golden shovels, and then they fell into it.”

While in Racine, Biden made more news in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett in which he said he would stop the shipment of offensive weapons to Israel if it went forward with an invasion of Rafah. He argued that “civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they (Israel) go after population centers... They’re not going to get our support if in fact they go on these population centers.” But Biden insisted that he remained committed to supplying Israel with defensive weapons: “We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently.”

Trump denounced Biden’s comments, saying: “Well, I wouldn't do what Biden did. He just abandoned Israel. I've never seen anything like it.”

Trump as viewed in front of a row of American flags.

Trump went on to say “if you’re Jewish and vote for him [Biden], I say, ‘Shame on you.’”  

What the Pundits Are Saying

Geoff Duncan, Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor from 2019-2023, penned an op-ed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday announcing that he will vote for Biden in November. Duncan argued that “the GOP will never rebuild until we move on from the Trump era, leaving conservative (but not angry) Republicans like me no choice but to pull the lever for Biden. At the same time, we should work to elect GOP congressional majorities to block his second-term legislative agenda and provide a check and balance. The alternative is another term of Trump, a man who has disqualified himself through his conduct and his character.”

Rolling Stone ran a story claiming that Trump will send covert teams into Mexico to kill the leaders and enforcers of Mexican drug cartels should he reclaim the presidency. “In conversations with close MAGA allies, including at least one Republican lawmaker,” Rolling Stone reports, “Trump has privately endorsed the idea of covertly deploying—with or without the Mexican government’s consent—special-ops units that would be tasked with, among other missions, assassinating the leaders and top enforcers of Mexico’s powerful and most notorious drug cartels.” 

The Washington Post reported that Trump told a gathering of oil industry executives last month that he would repeal Biden’s climate change initiatives if they raised $1 billion to return him (Trump) to White House. Among other things, Trump “promised that he would scrap Biden’s ‘mandate’ on electric vehicles.” That pledge, however, may upset the auto industry. It has “invested billions of dollars in the transition away from gasoline-powered cars. Many automakers are under increasing pressure to sell more EVs in Europe, which has tightened its own tailpipe emissions rules, and they are eager to avoid a patchwork of regulations around the globe.” 

What the Polls Show

Gallup released a report on Monday analyzing how China and the United States are viewed around the world. The analysis was based on polling done in 133 countries. Gallup found that the United States was viewed more favorably in eighty-one countries in 2023, with the other fifty-two favoring China. Kosovo, Israel, Poland, Ukraine, and Vietnam were the counties that most closely aligned with the United States. Russia, Iran, Serbia, and Pakistan were the countries that tilted most heavily toward China. When looking how these numbers have changed over time, Gallup concluded that “the U.S. appears to enjoy a significant net approval advantage under Democratic leadership and a significant disadvantage under Republican leadership.”

The Pew Research Center released a poll on Wednesday showing growing divides between Democrats and Republicans over NATO and Ukraine. Overall, 58 percent of Americans have a positive view of NATO. But that number obscures stark partisan differences. Seventy-five percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents view NATO favorably. That compares with just 43 percent of Republicans and Republic-leaning independents, a number that is down from 55 percent in 2022. In the case of Ukraine, 36 percent of those surveyed says that U.S. support for Ukraine helps U.S. interests, 36 percent says it hurts, and the remainder say it has no impact. However, 49 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say support for Ukraine helps U.S. interests, while 47 percent of Republicans and Republic-leaning independents say it hurts.

The Campaign Schedule

The Republican National Convention opens in Milwaukee in sixty-six days (July 15, 2024).

The Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago in 101 days (August 19, 2024).

The first in-person absentee voting in the nation begins in Minnesota and South Dakota in 133 days (September 20, 2024).

Election Day is 179 days away.

Inauguration Day is 255 days away.

Sinet Adous and Michelle Kurilla assisted in the preparation of this post.

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