- There are 35 days until the election.
- President Donald Trump is down several points in key swing states
- To continue being the president, Trump will need to significantly advance his case.
- Many voters are casting ballots right now.
- Did this debate accomplish that?
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The math of the election can appear complicated, but the state of play is clear: President Donald Trump is down significantly nationwide, and down in enough swing states that his path to the 270 votes necessary to remain president is precarious at best.
According to the latest polling averages from FiveThirtyEight, former Vice President Joe Biden is up in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. Trump will need to run the table in those states to win the presidency a second time.
Biden is up by 6 points or more in Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, and New Hampshire, but the president remains in striking distance.
In the FiveThirtyEight model, Biden beats Trump in 78 out of every 100 simulations.
All of this is to say that the 2020 presidential election is a tight race, but there's still time on the clock. Specifically, 35 days between now and Election Day during which millions of voters are likely to participate in early and absentee voting.
To put it in perspective, on Sunday the Carolina Panthers played the Los Angeles Chargers, and at halftime the Panthers were up 12 to 7. Incidentally, the probability at that point that the Panthers would win was assessed by forecasting models to be 79%. That's pretty much on par with Biden's chances right now.
There was half a game left, but the clock was running down, and Carolina had the upper hand. There were still plenty of opportunities for the Chargers to come back, but they did not, and Carolina won the game, 21 to 16.
This is not preordained. Also on Sunday, at one point in the third quarter the Arizona Cardinals were up 23 to 20 over the Detroit Lions, and at one point had a 78% chance of victory.
But Detroit used their 15 minutes to score twice and win the game.
The difference between these outcomes was that one losing team was able to score material wins in the time remaining and the other losing team merely kept pace with their rivals, who maintained a lead.
Trump, effectively, is in a position where he needs to score twice to win the game.
Each debate is an opportunity to accomplish that. This is the situation the president is in: down, absolutely, but not down so far as to remove him from the competition. And so each of the next 35 days will come down to one question:
Did Trump move the needle in his direction?
After the debate Tuesday night, ABC News host George Stephanopoulos said, "That was the worst presidential debate I have ever seen in my life."
It was a sloppy, interruption-heavy fiasco. And, if it was not a clear win that will play on television for several of the next 35 days, well, it's a wasted drive.
If it was an unremarkable contest where both came off as standoffish or inelegant, or the fathers of children who have gained financially from their parents, or unable to directly address unrest, well, one of them is the president and one of them is not.
And the one who is the president appears to be losing, and needs something decisive to happen within the next 34 days. Or else he will no longer be the president.
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