By Michael L Jarvis, London UK
With just days to go before Election Day next Tuesday November 3rd, Democrat presidential challenger, former vice-president Joe Biden, is maintaining a lead in the national opinion polls over second term hopeful, President Donald Trump.
But while trailing at this late stage is not a good sign for an incumbent, President Trump who pulled off a late upset over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by winning the critical Electoral College vote, has seen at least one major national opinion poll now turn in his favour.
This might be a blip or it could signal a slow shift towards the mercurial Trump as campaigning peaks while the days to Election Day draw inexorably closer.
It could set a pattern reminiscent of the 2016 battle royal in which Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million but scraped through by securing 306 Electoral College votes to 232 for Hillary Clinton.
In an era in American politics in which just about every issue “matters” competition for attention on the political agenda, it's the Electoral College which will be the final determinant.
Four years on and once again all eyes are on its magic number of 270 Electoral College votes that Joe Biden or Donald Trump would need to secure victory out of its 538 votes.
The Electoral College is comprised of persons selected as ‘electors’ from the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
If Biden wins he will become at 77 the oldest person ever to assume the office of President of the United States at inauguration - second only to Donald Trump who was 70 when he was sworn-in in 2016.
In addition to the crucial Electoral College, the outcome of the election will pivot on the management of COVID-19 pandemic in the US, the economy, race relations, allegations of corruption traded by both camps, and more recently the controversial appointment of the equally controversial new Supreme Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
The rushed appointment of conservative Judge Barrett which arose following the recent death of popular liberal Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg is significant as it has thrown yet another issue into the boiling cauldron of controversies which has been the hallmark of this election campaign.
Judge Barrett’s ascendancy to the Supreme Court pushed by President Trump and rubber-stamped by the Republican-controlled Senate, came just days before Election Day.
It was a move criticised by the Democrats who said it reeked of double-standards as the Republicans had blocked an Obama nominee eight months before the 2016 election on the basis that it was too close to the election.
It's also noteworthy that several seats are up for re-election on Tuesday in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Justice Barrett's appointment also firmly tips the balance in the nine-member Supreme Court now with six conservatives and three liberals.
It is argued that this favours President Trump’s unravelling of the Obama-Biden era Obamacare healthcare plan and other crucial pieces of long-standing, hard-fought legislation, affecting civil rights including abortion, climate change, gun control and immigration among others.
A devout conservative Christian, Justice Barrett has sought to allay fears that her religious beliefs will influence her interpretation of the law.
But there’s more riding on this election that has divided America as no other has in recent history.
Before the first postal vote was cast, Mr Trump was already claiming that the election is rigged, raising the spectacle of even more controversy with the likelihood of possibly contentious legal challenges if he fails to secure a second term. In that scenario and decision would rest with the Supreme Court...although in typical Trump-style he has raised the prospect of moving overseas if he loses.
President Trump's management of the economy - which he has claimed in typical superlatives-laden language as historically the best ever - is being questioned, especially as it continues to reel under the strains of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His critics also point out that Mr Trump had in fact inherited an economy on the mend set in motion by the policies of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations respectively.
In an election where policy seems to have taken a back seat to the politics of populism, the personality traits of the incumbent, populist - and unashamedly bombastic - Donald J. Trump is the polar opposite to his challenger and co-septuagenarian, the more mild-mannered but seemingly gaffe-prone Joe Biden.
Mr Trump, as he did in 2016, has bulldozed his way through the campaign - and his presidency - with a flood of outlandish claims and inflammatory utterances including an obsession with tweeting, and penchant for proclamations and executive orders.
But his unconventional style has played well with his very vocal and loyal base, as well as those who silently back him - whether or not they grit their teeth in the process.
It’s an accomplishment of sorts that in four years President Trump has firmly put his stamp on the Republican Party, which he once vilified, and has molded it into a machine that fits his narrative and conforms to his rhetoric.
With the COVID-19 pandemic spiralling in the US with over 226,000 deaths and more than 8.7 million cases increasing by about 79,000 daily, President Trump’s almost flippant response to the crisis has become a point of contempt, including his own reported brush with the virus from which he now brags he might be immune.
That, and many of his other utterances remains unproven. Many of his assertions have been also been disproved, with some of his tweets and re-tweets censored by social media platforms.
On the other hand, Mr Biden’s suitability for the demands of the job is being called into question with some analysts even suggesting that might not last a full term due to the pressures of the job.
Apparently forgetting who he is running against in a recent address, Mr Biden, who has struggled to appear physically and mentally agile on the campaign trail, presented the Trump team with campaign fodder for this blunder.
That contrasts Trump, who has never really stopped campaigning since he was elected in 2016, even eager to get back among his supporters during the pandemic.
But where Biden has had gaffes, Trump’s dismissive attitude on important matters and incendiary remarks particularly on issues of race and gender have created, or at least contributed to, the tense, febrile atmosphere of this campaign.
In this toxic political environment, rifts amongst Americans along racial and political lines are being exploited and unravelled, putting to waste years of effort and sacrifice spent bridging the country’s deep-seated class, economic and racial divide.
One of those advances saw Barack Obama elected as America’s first African-American president in 2008 with a white Joe Biden as his running mate.
They served together for two terms and now Mr Biden is vying for the top job with a black woman, Kamala Harris, as his choice for vice president and whose parents hail from Jamaica and India, as his running mate.
The Biden camp has brought in former President Obama to boost their campaign in the closing stages.
The healing of America is going to be a mammoth task for the winner when the ballots are tallied following the in-person voting on Tuesday November 3rd.
So far the turn out for early voting as well as postal votes has been impressive led by Black voters who, along with the Latino vote, have become especially key to this election, and who are being wooed aggressively by both the Trump and Biden camps.
One thing seems certain; this election is headed for a record turnout surpassing possibly all elections in the last 50 years which peaked at a little over 61.5% in 2008 with the first Obama victory.
Some political analysts are even predicting that the turnout could be the highest in a century.
There’s a lot at stake in this 2020 US Presidential election.
The candidates know it…and so do the voters.
But will it end at the finish line?
As they say in America: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”