The Note: Stagnant race, battleground deficits highlight Trump debate-season challenges

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Biden with a 53-43 advantage.

September 28, 2020, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The political world keeps blowing up. The race for president keeps not changing.

Amid another news bombshell -- The New York Times obtaining two decades of President Donald Trump's tax records -- the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a 10-point edge among both registered and likely voters. That's basically where the race was all summer.

The 53-43 Biden advantage among registered voters is exactly where the race was in the ABC/Post poll way back in July 2019. That was long before the coronavirus pandemic, the economic collapse, the national reckonings around race or the Supreme Court vacancy -- or, for that matter, the entirety of both the Democratic primary and impeachment proceedings.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport on Sept. 25, 2020, in Newport News, Va.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport on Sept. 25, 2020, in Newport News, Va.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

While Trump's support among Republicans and conservatives is strong as ever, the poll also shows definite erosions among groups of voters he wants and needs. The president is trailing badly among moderates, independents and suburban women.

It's not just a story of the popular vote versus the electoral college, either. In the ABC/Post poll, Biden has a 54-42 advantage in the 13 most-contested states, and the race is dead even, 49-49, across all the states Trump carried in 2016.

The numbers highlight the depths of the president's challenges in Tuesday's first presidential debate and beyond. Trump may be good at changing the subject, but the campaign to date has been all-but impervious to new storylines, even amid wild outside events.

There could well be October surprises, and a late-September debate could start a string of them. But it's also possible there's not much left that can shock voters.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

The quickest and easiest way for the president to dispute or disprove the reporting in The New York Times about his apparent massive business losses, potential financial conflicts of interest and years of tax avoidance would be to make public his tax returns as every major candidate has done for the last several decades.

If there is time to nominate and confirm a new justice to a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court, there is surely time to get accounting papers in order.

The fact is, this president has acted indignant to the idea of being transparent with voters about his personal finances and proclaimed wealth. The Trump Organization broadly denied many of the charges in the Times without offering details.

PHOTO: US President Donald Trump, and others listen while former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks during a briefing at the White House September 27, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, US President Donald Trump, and others listen while former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks during a briefing at the White House September 27, 2020, in Washington, DC. - US President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he won the election, The New York Times reported September 27, 2020, citing tax return data extending more than 20 years.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

According to the Times' reporting, the president paid only $750 in federal income taxes his first year in office, a fact that will surely shock many Americans.

The New York Times says it will continue to report and publish "additional articles" ahead, meaning debate moderators this week and down the line will likely have new fodder on everything from the president's businessman persona and credentials to his personal spending habits and views around tax responsibility. Details from the reporting could raise serious national security questions, too.

It is hard to image the president losing any truly loyal followers because of this reporting. Dealing and even swindling to a degree has long been a part of the president's rough-and-tumble brand. But this president needs to expand his base -- not only maintain it -- and the Biden campaign has already rushed to start selling swag that capitalizes on the headlines, including buttons that read, "I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump."

The TIP with Meg Cunningham

In light of the Republican Party's dash to nominate a new justice to the Supreme Court, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is continuing to face a fundraising shortage in his reelection efforts. Graham, who has faced an uphill battle for financial backing from his supporters, could be subjected to further difficulties after his change in position on the validity of nominating a new Supreme Court justice just weeks before the November elections.

In 2016, Graham was adamantly opposed to Democrats putting a justice on the bench in an election year, but now he has reversed that stance, opening himself to criticism. His opponent, Democrat Jamie Harrison, outpaced him in the second quarter, raising $14 million to Graham's $8.4 million. And Harrison's campaign announced an additional $2 million after a Quinnipac poll saw the two in a dead heat.

PHOTO: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham listens during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 16, 2020.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham listens during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 16, 2020.
Pool/Reuters

On Fox News last week, Graham said he was "getting killed financially" because Harrison's donors "hate [his] guts."

His plea for donations got swept up by the anti-Trump super PAC the Lincoln Project, which launched an ad featuring Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel" poking fun at the senator's cash disadvantage.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Monday morning's episode features ABC News Senior Editorial Producer John Santucci, who breaks down the New York Times report detailing President Trump's tax returns. Then, ABC News' Trish Turner explains what comes next following Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court. And ABC News' Scott Withers joins us from Florida as its governor takes big steps to loosen COVID-19 restrictions. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. In this special edition of Powerhouse Politics, ABC's Martha Raddatz, who moderated a general election debate with Biden in 2012 and Trump in 2016, and Galen Druke of 538, sit down with ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl to preview the upcoming debate. https://bit.ly/2w091jE

"Your Voice, Your Vote: The Breakdown" ABC News Live will add a new afternoon political program, "Your Voice, Your Vote: The Breakdown," to its schedule. Anchored by "ABC News Live Update" Anchor Diane Macedo and ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran, the new 30-minute original program will unpack issues important to voters to help viewers make an educated decision about where they stand on an issue. The show will air weekdays, beginning on Monday, at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Donald Trump gives an update on the nation's coronavirus testing strategy, 2 p.m. in the White House Rose Garden.
  • Dr. Jill Biden travels to Madison, Wisconsin, to participate in a "Get Out the Vote" event at 1 p.m. Then, she will deliver remarks on Helping Wisconsin's Economy Recover from the Pandemic in Waukesha, Wisconsin, at 3:45 p.m.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris delivers remarks in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the Supreme Court and what's at stake in this election for the American people at 2:15 p.m. After, Sen. Harris will participate in a Sister to Sister meets Shop Talk roundtable at 4:30 p.m.
  • The Senate holds a pro forma session at 2:45 p.m.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

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