Democrats are still haunted by the ghosts of 2016. But some are allowing themselves to contemplate a Biden victory big enough to reorder the nation’s politics.
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MACON, Ga. — President Trump held a rally in Georgia on Friday, 18 days before the November general election. It wasn’t a good sign for him.
That Mr. Trump is still campaigning in what should be a safely Republican state — and in others that should be solidly in his column like Iowa and Ohio — is evidence to many Democrats that Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s polling lead in the presidential race is solid and durable. Mr. Trump spent Monday in Arizona, too, a state that was once reliably Republican but where his unpopularity has helped make Mr. Biden competitive.
For some Democrats, Mr. Trump’s attention to red states is also a sign of something else — something few in the party want to discuss out loud, given their scars from Mr. Trump’s surprise victory in 2016. It’s an indication that Mr. Biden could pull off a landslide in November, achieving an ambitious and rare electoral blowout that some Democrats think is necessary to quell any doubts — or disputes by Mr. Trump — that Mr. Biden won the election.
On one level, such a scenario is entirely plausible based on the weeks and the breadth of public polls that show Mr. Biden with leads or edges in key states. But this possibility runs headlong into the political difficulties of pulling off such a win, and perhaps even more, the psychological hurdles for Democrats to entertain the idea. Many think that Mr. Trump, having pulled off a stunning win before, could do it again, even if there are differences from 2016 that hurt his chances.
This much is clear: Landslide presidential victories have become rare — the last big one was in 1988, and a more modest one in 2008 — and Mr. Trump is still ahead of or running closely with Mr. Biden in many of the states he won in 2016 when the margin of error is factored in.
Democrats see flipping states like Texas and Georgia as key to a possible landslide; Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976, and Georgia since 1992. A New York Times and Siena College poll published on Tuesday found Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump tied among likely voters in Georgia.
“Until Democrats win a statewide election, we’re not a purple state,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican political consultant in Georgia. “We may be a purpling state. But until they win, this is a red state.”
It is just such a historic rout of Mr. Trump that some Democrats increasingly believe is necessary to send a political message to Republicans, a moral one to the rest of the world, and serve a key logistical purpose: getting a clear Electoral College winner on Nov. 3, rather than waiting for an extended ballot counting process.
To many, a commanding victory that sweeps Democrats to control of the Senate as well would set the stage for a consequential presidency, not just one that evicts Mr. Trump.
“What they’re going to need in order to move the country forward is to demonstrate that a ton of people are with him and are aligned with his agenda,” said María Teresa Kumar, chief executive officer at Voto Latino, a voter mobilization group that has endorsed Mr. Biden. “That the people want to address climate change in a big bold way. They want to address health care in a big bold way. And they want to address education in a big bold way.”
She added: “The only way to make Republicans find a spine is if this is a massive turnout election.”
For a party still traumatized by the ghosts of 2016, overconfidence or overreach are the last things most Democrats feel or want to project.
“This race is far closer than some of the punditry we’re seeing on Twitter and on TV would suggest,” read a memo last week from Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon. “In the key battleground states where this election will be decided, we remain neck and neck with Donald Trump.”
But even some Republicans have begun talking about a possible drubbing in a second Blue Wave that would power Mr. Biden to a huge Electoral College victory and help Democrats retake the Senate.
Last week, one Republican, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, warned constituents of a possible “Republican blood bath” in November, earning the ire of the president in the process. The conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch has told friends he expects Mr. Biden to win in a landslide, according to a published report he did not deny.
Mr. Biden’s campaign has also stepped up travel and investment in states that were expected to be out of reach for Democrats — sending Jill Biden to Texas, and scheduling events for Senator Kamala Harris and her husband in Georgia and Ohio, before a staffer tested positive for coronavirus and her travel schedule was limited.
But perhaps the biggest sign of an expanded Democratic map is the signals coming out of the Trump campaign as he finds himself in places like Macon rather than trying to expend resources in states Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
The subtle shift in thinking among some Democrats — that the goal for Election Day should not only be to defeat Mr. Trump but do so by a large margin — is about setting the tone for the post-Trump era.
A crushing Electoral College victory, the thinking goes, would deliver an unmistakable rejection of Mr. Trump’s political brand and minimize the impact of Mr. Trump’s rhetorical war against mail-in ballots and any attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the election.
Mr. Biden, a cautious moderate, without the limitless charisma of President Obama, who has portrayed himself as more a transitional figure than a transformative one, might seem an unlikely figure to produce a political tsunami. He has balked at progressive litmus test issues such as the Green New Deal or expanding the number of Supreme Court justices.