The Trump campaign on Monday expressed confidence in President Trump’s standing in the 2020 race despite trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in the polls, and campaign officials argued that Democrats are “falling short” of their goal in requested and submitted absentee ballots.
Campaign manager Bill Stepien, returning to the Trump campaign’s headquarters Monday after recovering from COVID-19, touted Team Trump’s voter contacts and registration numbers, as early voting and absentee voting are underway in key battleground states.
“Voter contact continues to be a real strength, and an open playing field for our campaign, when you compare to Joe Biden’s,” Stepien said, noting that the Trump campaign and Republicans have “made more than 133 million voter contacts this cycle.”
“Today, we have a registration advantage,” Stepien said.
WHAT THE LATEST FOX NEWS POLL SHOWS IN THE BIDEN-TRUMP RACE
But amid the coronavirus pandemic, millions of voters across the country are requesting absentee ballots, or participating in some universal mail-in voting practices if passed in their states.
Those early numbers are coming in favor of Democrats, but the Trump campaign has downplayed those figures and early numbers, while maintaining that supporters of the president will physically cast their ballots at the polls on Nov. 3.
Election officials in key general election battleground states say they have noticed the surge in requests for absentee ballots by Democrats upending a trend of Republicans in some crucial states typically dominating voting by absentee ballot through the mail.
According to the latest Fox News Poll, equal numbers of Biden (75 percent) and Trump (77 percent) backers are extremely committed to their candidate and extremely interested in the election (65 and 66 percent respectively).
Voters planning to cast a ballot by mail favor Biden by 41 points, while Trump leads by 11 points among those planning to vote in person.
“It is really important to remember that Democrats need to have a large advantage with absentee voting, which they do, because it is how their voters—Democratic voters—are telling us they are going to vote, and this is how they are planning to vote,” Stepien said Monday.
“Just a reminder, requesting a ballot is very different than voting a ballot,” he added. “We see a lot of touting of absentee ballot requests, totaling with Democrat advantages, but a lot less touting of actual ballots cast.”
Stepien added that “with so many more requests made in 2020 than in past years, we are absolutely bound to see the percentages of unreturned ballots increase.”
Stepien went on to reference Florida, noting that public polling shows that “55% of Democrats are saying they are voting by mail, compared to only 29% of Republicans.”
Stepien said that Democrats’ reliance on absentee and voting by mail ballots will have them “falling short of a win number.”
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“Democrats, in Florida, to the event that they have an advantage over Republicans, they have built that by converting more historically Election Day voters to vote absentee than we have,” Stepien said. “Democrats are largely cannibalizing Election Day voters and shifting them to vote earlier.”
He added: “To that, we say, have at it. There is no electoral impact to that strategy, and that’s what we care about.”
In Florida, where 3.3 million people requested mail-in ballots in 2016, state elections officials have already had more than 4.2 million requests.
Stepien argued that Democrats in other key states, like North Carolina, will fall “way short of their vote goal” in “pinning all of their hopes on absentee ballots.”
The ballots requested in the first wave of North Carolina voting largely came from Democratic and independent voters. The number of requests for ballots by mail was 16 times the number the state sent out during the same period for the 2016 election.
In 2016, just one-quarter of the electorate cast their ballots by mail, but this time, election officials expect the majority of voters to do so. In states like Wisconsin, they have already seen 100,000 more requests than in 2016.
Stepien said that Democrats are aware that they are “falling short,” pointing to Biden “venturing out of his basement to go vote early in person — not by mail.”
“They know they don’t have the votes they need,” Stepien said. “The lesson here is that ballots don’t return themselves. Ballots can be sent out, and that’s all fine and good, but it takes work to get those ballots filled out and returned.”
Stepien touted the Trump campaign’s “ground game,” saying they have “the best ground game that has ever been erected in political history.”
The Biden campaign, however, fired back, with spokesman Andrew Bates saying the coronavirus, which he called “a consequence of Donald Trump’s historic and tragic failed leadership,” has had a “stronger ground game” in the U.S. “than any other nation.”
“The Biden campaign has the most advanced voter contact operation in American history,” Bates told Fox News. “Donald Trump has no case for four more years in which he’d continue to tear the American people apart, help the pandemic spiral out of control, and constantly side with corporate boardrooms and rich donors over middle class families.”
The latest RealClearPolitics average shows Biden leading Trump 52.3% to 41.7%, but Corey Lewandowski, a senior adviser to the campaign, downplayed the polls, pointing to 2016.
“The enthusiasm in the states are very real,” Lewandowski said. “We feel very good with our polling numbers.”
Lawyers for Trump
Meanwhile, Trump’s deputy campaign manager Justin Clark touted the team’s efforts in “aggressively” pushing back on universal mail-in voting in states across the nation, calling for “clear and stable rules in voting around the country,” “transparency in the system,” and “making sure everybody who is eligible to vote has the right to vote, and have that vote counted once.”
Clark called voting by mail “inherently less safe than voting in person,” and again said the campaign is pushing for “stable rules and transparency in the system so that everyone can see what’s going on in count rooms and polling places.”
President Trump and Republicans have railed against the practice of mail-in ballots and warned of widespread fraud in the upcoming election.
The Trump campaign is bracing for the possibility of a protracted legal battle in the event of a contested election, forming what it’s calling a “Lawyers for Trump” coalition to “protect the integrity” of November’s vote.
Campaign General Counsel Matthew Morgan told Fox News last month that the campaign is urging active and retired attorneys and even law students to volunteer in their nationwide efforts.
The campaign’s efforts come amid a fierce war of words between the Trump and Biden campaigns, and their allies, over the integrity of the vote, including GOP warnings about mail-in voting and Democrats’ predictions that Trump would refuse to accept a loss.
The Lawyers for Trump coalition comes as part of the joint Republican National Committee and Trump campaign’s “Protect the Vote” effort, which has warned for months that “Democrats are trying to use coronavirus and the courts to legalize ballot harvesting, implement a nationwide mail-in ballot system, and eliminate nearly every safeguard in our elections.”
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has built a massive “election protection program,” including employing former Attorney General Eric Holder and hundreds of other lawyers in preparation for a legal battle in the event of a contested election.
The strategies, according to the campaign, are being directed to support election jurisdictions in preparing for and administering the vote under what they call “extraordinary conditions” this cycle, voter education to raise awareness of options for in-person and mail-in voting, aggressive responses to voter suppression activities, and robust programs for identifying and countering foreign interference and misinformation from foreign or domestic sources.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.