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Trump has momentum heading in to pivotal week in US election campaign

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Donald Trump enters a pivotal week in the 2024 presidential race with momentum as he prepares to lock up the Republican nomination, while Joe Biden tries to ease mounting concerns about his candidacy with a State of the Union re-election pitch.

Trump swept three more primary contests over the weekend and is expected to dominate on Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen US states will hold primary contests.

His easy victories come as new polls show him narrowly leading President Biden eight months ahead of the presidential election.

A survey in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday had Trump backed by 47 per cent of likely voters against 45 per cent for Biden. While this was a smaller lead than in the newspaper’s December survey, a poll in the New York Times the previous day had Trump’s advantage at 5 percentage points.

“Thus far Trump has been running an effective campaign, dragging down the president’s reputation, while Biden is struggling with the challenges incumbents face in moments of crisis — and certainly this is the case overseas,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of political history at Princeton University.

“Biden is also confronting the political wall of intense polarisation — which makes it hard to break through to large parts of the electorate in terms of the strengths of the economy and advances on public policy — and this same factor fuels fierce opposition to him.”

Biden has dominated the Democratic party’s early primary races, as incumbent presidents often do, and faces no serious challenger. But in a worrying sign for Democrats, the NYT-Siena College survey found that the majority of Biden’s 2020 supporters now think he is too old to be an effective president at age 81. Some of his allies on Capitol Hill are urging him to increase his public appearances to dismiss concerns about his leadership.

“I think the president is an incredibly compelling figure, and I would hope that the White House will send him out all over the country to just be who he is,” Chris Murphy, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, told ABC on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Republicans are unifying around Trump. He has already handily won the first nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Missouri, Idaho and Michigan, knocking out all but one challenger. Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Trump’s one-time ambassador to the UN, is his lone remaining rival. But her path to the White House is narrow.

Haley pointed to the age of both candidates as she defended her increasingly long-shot candidacy on Meet the Press on Sunday.

“I don’t think Donald Trump or Joe Biden should be president. I don’t think that we need two candidates in their 80s. I don’t think we want Joe Biden who calls his opponents fascists or Donald Trump, who calls his opponents vermin. No one wants that,” Haley said.

Asked if she would endorse Trump should she drop out, she said: “I am not thinking about any of that.”

On the campaign trail, Haley points to polling showing the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want a rematch between Biden and Trump, and pitches herself as a younger, more moderate alternative. But the latest FiveThirtyEight average of opinion polls shows her trailing Trump nationwide among likely Republican primary voters by a 60-point margin.

Haley, whose campaign coffers have been bolstered by deep-pocketed traditional Republican donors as well a smaller grassroots donations, has vowed to fight on through at least Super Tuesday. But campaign veterans have questioned whether she will suspend her campaign this week if she fails to win a single state on Tuesday night.

The Biden campaign is already acting as though Trump is the Republican party’s nominee, framing the election in November as a choice between a chaotic former president facing mounting legal woes, and an experienced incumbent with a strong record from his first term in the Oval Office, including a robust economy.

But Biden is also confronting growing discontent, especially among younger voters, over his handling of the conflict in the Middle East.

Demonstrators chant outside the New York Public Library during a global day of action for Palestine: Democrat voters have expressed anger about the extent of Joe Biden’s support for Israel © Bloomberg

A Democratic primary election last week in Michigan laid bare the cracks in Biden’s coalition, after more than 13 per cent of voters cast ballots for “uncommitted” rather than backing Biden. Chief among their concerns was Biden’s support for the Israeli government given the scale of civilian casualties in Gaza.

“There is plenty of time and things can change especially as the choice becomes clear in the coming months,” says Zelizer. “The most important thing Biden can do is to keep showing he can govern but now that must include more public speaking. Moreover, he can’t ignore the discontent in his party. Doing so is not an option in a turnout election.”

Biden will be looking to reinvigorate his campaign on Thursday with his annual State of the Union speech, a primetime address to both chambers of Congress that will be broadcast live on all major US television networks. He spent the weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland preparing for the speech.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Friday that Biden would focus on his legislative accomplishments and laying out a vision for the future.

“He’s going to talk about lowering costs, lowering healthcare costs in particular; making sure that we’re saving our democracy; protecting women’s rights . . . uniting the country,” she said.

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