Why it matters that this year’s election campaign will be so long

Get ready for the longest general election campaign in memory.

It is already odds-on that November’s election will be a rematch between President Biden and former President Trump.

Biden faces no serious challenge for the Democratic nomination, whatever Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and author Marianne Williamson might claim.

Trump has comfortably won both early contests in the Republican primary cycle so far, driving Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) out of the race. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley needs something akin to a political miracle to defeat Trump.

Neither Biden nor Trump will become the official nominee until their parties hold their conventions — the GOP in Milwaukee in July and the Democrats in Chicago in August. But that looks likely to be a mere formality.

Both men have all but cleared the field — a task that eluded Biden in 2020, Trump in 2016 and other recent presidential nominees until far later. The epic 2008 Democratic primary clash between then-Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), for example, remained fiercely competitive into May.

Here are five reasons why the sheer length of this year’s campaign will matter.

More time for stumbles

Republicans are fond of attacking Biden on the charge that he won the 2020 election “from his basement.”

The tone of the attack is partisan but there is a germ of truth to it.

The 2020 election, fought across a national landscape transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, looked like no other. There were far fewer rallies and stump appearances, and the pandemic even affected the debate schedule. Trump declined to participate in the second scheduled debate after organizers decided it would be held virtually rather than in-person.

Now, Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, face nine months of grueling campaigning. They will do so under a spotlight that will be unforgiving of physical or mental stumbles.

Polls consistently show more voters to be concerned about Biden compared with Trump when it comes to his mental capacity to serve a second term effectively. Any errors by the president could exact a steep political price.

But the risks are far from a one-way street. A recent Trump speech in which he repeatedly used Haley’s name when he clearly meant to refer to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sharpened concerns about his fitness for office.

Voter boredom — and an opportunity for third-party candidates

Even in a divided nation, millions of Americans can agree on one thing: They are rolling their eyes at a Biden-Trump rematch.

Polls repeatedly show dissatisfaction with a contest between the president, who has been a national political figure for half a century, and Trump, the most polarizing political figure of his generation.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in January found a massive 67 percent of Americans saying they are “tired of seeing the same candidates in presidential elections and want someone new.”

One big question is whether the ennui with a Biden-Trump rematch fuels any real enthusiasm for a third-party candidate.

In a Gallup poll last fall, the number of Americans who said there was a need for a third party ticked up to 63 percent — the highest figure seen in 20 years of polling.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean an actual third-party candidate has any realistic chance of winning.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is pursuing an independent bid and typically polls more strongly than any other alternative option, received 14 percent support in a recent Quinnipiac University poll — more than 20 points shy of both Biden and Trump.

There are two other big unknowns — whether Kennedy and other third-party candidates can get on the ballot in the crucial states, and whether the controversial, purportedly centrist group No Labels runs a candidate.

Plenty of room for Trump legal dramas to run

The basic details of Trump’s unprecedented legal troubles are becoming familiar. He has been indicted in four criminal cases totaling 91 charges.

Those charges cover alleged falsification of business records in New York, the sensitive documents uncovered at Mar-a-Lago, attempts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia and the federal case about efforts to overturn the election, including the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.

Separately, Trump was found liable at a civil trial last year for sexual abusing the writer E. Jean Carroll and for defaming her.

It all puts the GOP in a very odd spot. The man almost assured of being their nominee could very plausibly be a convicted felon by the time the election rolls around.

Trump’s legal teams have been trying to delay all the trials, and they have had some success.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan formally postponed the start of Trump’s trial in the federal case regarding the 2020 election. The proceedings there have been slowed by the Trump team’s claim that he is immune from prosecution over his actions while in office. That claim is still being decided in other courts.

Even so, Trump’s New York trial is still set to start late next month, the Mar-a-Lago case in May and the Georgia case in August.

That’s a lot of time for his conduct to be under the legal microscope.

What will be the dollar impact?

It’s unclear exactly how the costs of this year’s campaign will shake out.

Biden and Trump have more time to wage a TV ad war against each other. But Biden has spent virtually nothing to vanquish his primary opponents, and Trump looks set to be coming toward the end of that process on the GOP side.

In 2020, Biden became the first candidate to raise more than $1 billion from donors, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks political spending. The group estimates that total spending on the presidential election four years ago, including from outside groups, totaled roughly $5.7 billion.

There will, for sure, be colossal spending in the roughly seven states that are expected to decide the election’s outcome.

The most recent fundraising figures show the Biden campaign with a cash advantage over Trump.

The Biden campaign had roughly $46 million cash on hand as 2024 dawned, while Trump’s campaign had $33 million.

Nine months for surprises

The political picture right now could change irrevocably by the time Election Day rolls around.

Does the economic recovery pick up pace or could a recession yet bite? What happens with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which appears to be expanding already with U.S. strikes on Iraq and Syria on Friday? Could Biden or Trump suffer a health event that transforms everything?

It’s easy to underline just how fast things can change.

Four years ago almost to the day, the Department of Homeland Security directed all flights from China to the U.S. to be routed through 11 airports for enhanced screening amid concerns about an unusual respiratory virus. Roughly six weeks later, the nation locked down and all was transformed.

There may not be anything on that scale this year, but nine months is a long, long time in politics.

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