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Beset by pandemic, Trump plots new way to reach voters — through landline telephones

Francesca Chambers, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

"I think that Bill and Jason really complement each other and provide a nice yin and yang for the campaign," said Surabian, who worked closely with Stepien when they were at the White House. "Jason is there to be the ideas guy, to be the messaging guy, to be the strategic guy. Bill is there to be the political guy, he's the nuts and bolts guy, he's the operations guy."

One of the biggest problems that Stepien faces, aside from staffing, is how to put Trump in front of his supporters, with rallies in many battleground states out of the question for the foreseeable future. Trump has had to rely on much smaller White House organized events in swing states, in settings where every attendee is able to be tested for the coronavirus, social distancing can be implemented and staff does not have to quarantine for 14 days.

Campaign officials said they still expect the president to hold rallies, and they will continue to look for opportunities in states with low coronavirus transmission rates.

In the meantime, the campaign is hoping voters will tune into appearances that Trump is making in the states in his official capacity, in addition to the "tele-rallies" he's been holding and the appearances he has begun making again at the White House podium.

Trump has made peace with his new normal and enjoys addressing his supporters at the phone events, a Trump aide said, describing it as a good way to dip into a state and see what kind of reception he gets there.

Murtaugh said the campaign has made 68 million calls to voters since March 13 and has had close to 1.6 million volunteers.

In a virtual presentation to reporters last week, Stepien referred to the tele-rallies and emphasized a new strategy of having Trump drop into target states like Maine, which he lost narrowly four years ago, to announce federal action on key local issues.

"These are the types of hyper-local things that matter in an election year and a challenger can't do," Stepien said of the White House-organized events.

Stepien disputed public polling that shows Trump trailing Biden during the presentation, arguing that the surveys are inaccurate, because they do not take new voter registrations into account. The tactician insisted that changes in voter registration in states like North Carolina and Florida, two states that Trump won in 2016, show Republicans cutting in half the advantage that former President Barack Obama had.


"Unless you have a keen pollster following these registration changes, who's up, who's down, in what counties, in what regions, these trends are going to go unnoticed until election night. Like, we're right and they're wrong," Stepien said.

John Anzalone, the private pollster for Biden and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, told McClatchy that he is accounting for changes in voter registration. Anzalone said that every poll he has conducted in North Carolina in the last half year has Trump losing the state.

He cited a Fox News poll that showed Biden up by eight or more points in five swing states and noted that sites that produce rolling averages show Trump losing. "You can't talk that away. You can't wish it away. This isn't 2016," Anzalone said.

Several aides to Trump admitted in private conversations that Trump is losing to Biden. One of them blamed the president for spending too much time sparring with reporters during his earlier coronavirus briefings and not enough time empathizing with Americans affected by the virus. Trump further damaged his standing with the public when he talked about ingesting disinfectant to fight the virus, that aide said.

"The problem with the campaign was the candidate," the adviser said.

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