A bit of good news for President Trump came Monday evening. A new poll shows him leading former Vice President Joe Biden in Arizona by about a point-and-a-half just 85 days before the election. The state-wide survey conducted by the Trafalgar Group, a Republican polling firm, has Trump ahead, 46.2% to 44.8%.
The president had fallen behind his challenger in the once-reliably-red state but has whittled down Biden’s lead to within the margin of error in the RealClearPolitics polling average, which now places the presumptive Democratic nominee ahead of Trump by just 2.2 points.
Another Arizona poll also released Monday, this one by OH Predictive Insights, showed Biden up 49% to 45% among registered voters. But it was the third survey by that firm showing the president shrinking the deficit. In May, the same firm found Trump trailing by seven points.
“Arizona has absolutely earned its battleground status,” OH Predictive Insights’ chief of research, Mike Noble, told a local news outlet when the latest poll numbers were released.
The rebound pattern may hearten Republicans, though the overall trend lines are still worrisome for the party faithful. Trump and Hillary Clinton were neck-and-neck in Arizona for most of the 2016 election, and the GOP standard-bearer fell behind only briefly -- and just barely -- a few weeks ahead of the election. He wound up carrying the state by 3.5 percentage points.
It was an important part of his historic upset. It was also expected -- President Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to carry the state, winning it in 1996 while cruising to reelection. Since then, Arizona has remained just beyond the reach of Democrats.
But they are more optimistic this year. Incumbent Sen. Martha McSally has failed to close the gap against her Democratic challenger, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. RCP’s average shows Kelly leading by seven points.
These numbers may reflect recent political heat stirred up in the Grand Canyon State. When Trump praised Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a recent White House visit for providing a coronavirus “model in applying a science-based approach to the decreasing cases and hospitalizations without implementing a punishing lockdown,” Biden went on the offensive.
“Gov. Ducey is rushing reopening without adequate testing and contact tracing,” the vice president tweeted last Friday, adding that the governor was “withholding support for increased testing” while “refusing to implement a mask mandate” and, in the process, “turning his back on older Americans and those at greater risk.”
More specifically, Biden slammed Ducey (pictured) for a statewide infection rate “of nearly 20%.” The governor challenged that number, asserting that "percent positivity [has dropped to] between 9-11% for the first time since May.” Repurposing Biden’s standard expression of exasperation, he said, “Come on, man. … The last thing we need is another politician rooting for the virus because it helps them politically. We've got enough of that.”
The entire exchange, like most of the 2020 election cycle, took place online. The Trump campaign visited Arizona four times ahead of the last election. As the pandemic continues, however, the president and his opponent have had to do much of their messaging virtually.
As the White House struggles to contain the pandemic, the electoral map continues to favor Biden. At a Monday press conference, Trump expressed a strong belief that a vaccine would be in production before the end of the year. But that wish is up against a persistent virus and the accompanying recession.
Trump now trails Biden by 6.9 points in the RCP national average, compared to a 7.7-point deficit against Clinton at this time in 2016. “I'm not a big believer in polls,” he added in the White House briefing room. “If I was, I guess I wouldn't be standing here right now.”
The Trafalgar survey of 1,013 likely voters, conducted Aug. 5-8, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.99 percentage points. The OH Predictive Insights survey of 603 registered voters, conducted Aug. 3-4, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.