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Trump and Biden are tightening their messages ahead of the first debate and the stretch run

Just over a month before they meet on a debate stage and less than six months before voters go to the polls, the president will Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump clarify their overarching messages to voters.

“This is a choice between a candidate who cares about you and a candidate who cares about himself,” said Biden pollster Molly Murphy. “All roads lead back to that core framework.”

Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser to Trump, said the race is about “strength versus weakness” and “success versus failure.”

Formulating a central theme is only part of the strategy that comes with running modern multi-billion dollar campaigns. Done well, it provides an organizing principle for the campaign and gives voters a lens to see how the candidate’s record, behavior and promises combine to shape a vision for the future, veteran political operatives say.

“Often the winning political campaign is the one that successfully defines the question the voter answers with her vote,” said Republican strategist Brad Todd. “In a race where both candidates are completely known, despite all their faults and strengths, it’s very difficult to do that.”

“They don’t care if he cares about them.”

Todd is one of many strategists from both parties who say Biden and Trump are both missing the point with their messages.

“The race will come down to which candidate makes people think they are more focused on the future,” he said. “Both candidates have a real problem moving on from the past.”

Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who has worked on previous presidential campaigns, offered a variation on the same theme: that Trump and Biden should be more focused on the future of Americans than on contrasting their personal traits.

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“It’s about who you think will do better over the next four years, given the challenges the country faces,” said Kofinis, criticizing Biden’s base construction. “If they think Donald Trump is going to tackle inflation, they don’t care whether he cares about them or not.”

Both candidates are suffering from inverted approval ratings, indicating that they have not made themselves popular so far in the campaign and may have credibility issues as messengers.

No one wants to throw good money at a bad message. If the candidates decide that their messages are not getting through, they can change them at any time.

Court TV and the air raid

Each campaign will spend hundreds of millions of dollars communicating the main theme and associated messages through rallies; media interviews; television, radio and digital advertising; door knocking from house to house; and other tactics to engage voters.

For now, Trump is sending his messages from a New York courthouse, where he is on trial on charges that he falsified business records to help his 2016 campaign by covering up an alleged affair with porn actor Stormy Daniels.

That complicates his reporting in a number of ways: His time on the campaign trail is limited by court dates that typically allow Wednesdays and weekends off, and his political defense against charges in four separate cases is that he is a victim of Biden’s “weaponization.” “The judiciary is against him. There is no evidence that Biden is interfering in the criminal cases, and it would be a powerful president – ​​not a weak one – who could control prosecutors, grand juries and judges in various jurisdictions.

His team believes he has demonstrated the ability to capture media and voter attention in a way unlike any previous candidate, and aides say his campaign and supporters are following suit.

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“Our messaging operation starts with Trump,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez. “He is our best asset – the political operation in the theaters of war, the massive surrogate operation and the media strategy all complement him.”

In addition to addressing the media outside the courtroom, Trump has been able to hold rallies and fundraisers in battleground states during the trial. And he’s been keeping up with a series of several local media interviews in swing states in recent weeks, making sure voters hear from him even if he’s not physically in their states.

His campaign has not expanded its footprint in battleground states as quickly as the better-financed Biden operation, nor has it tried to match the tens of millions of dollars the Biden camp has spent on the airwaves in recent weeks. But Biden’s heavier spending has not led to a clear move in the polls in his favor.

Trump aides say the air and ground games will increase over the summer and they are confident voters will remember that Trump didn’t start wars and that the economy was strong during his presidency before Covid-19 pandemic brought trade to a standstill.

“It goes back to basics,” Alvarez said. ‘There is no secret sauce. Americans just want to know they can provide for their families. And they succeeded under Trump.’


Biden aides describe an “all of the above” messaging strategy as key to positioning the president for re-election.

“It’s impossible to break through on a single platform,” said a Biden campaign official who works in swing states. The aide described a layered approach to highlight key contrasts by talking directly to voters, using online influencers and community leaders, advertising and having Biden travel to swing states.

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“These tactics validate and make authentic to people what they see on TV,” the aide said, adding that a presence on the ground is crucial because “we expect every state on the battlefield… to be incredibly close.”

Biden’s air play includes trying to reach voters when they are not focused on politics, a strategy that included running ads during the Kentucky Derby and the NBA playoffs, campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said. In February, however, Biden notably missed the opportunity to reach millions of voters by deciding to skip a Super Bowl interview.

One of the long-running frustrations for Biden’s White House and the campaign is the perception that he is presiding over a weakened economy. That’s part of Trump’s message, and there are indications that it has gained momentum. But while consumer prices have soared since the pandemic struck, there are plenty of signs of health in the broader economy.

Biden is trying to bridge that gap with validators like Washington, Pennsylvania, Mayor Joseph “JoJo” Burgess.

“I see jobs coming to the area. I see the infrastructure getting fixed up. I see those policies working,” Burgess said in an ad that aired in Pennsylvania last month. “Right now we have the most pro-American labor president we’ve ever had in the history of this country. Donald Trump cares about one person and one person only, and that is Donald Trump.”

Biden aides say the president has a strong record on issues like adding jobs to the economy, lowering the price of insulin for Medicare recipients and signing gun safety legislation.

“I think they have a pretty weak candidate right now,” Tyler said of Trump, pointing to his time off the campaign trail, even when not in court. “Instead of going out and facing voters, he was at Mar-a-Lago selling NFTs.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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