By James Oliphant and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The 2024 presidential election promises to be like no other modern U.S. election.
Leading the field of Republican presidential candidates is former President Donald Trump, who faces a battery of federal and state criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
If Trump captures the Republican nomination and wins the general election, he will become the first president in 130 years to win the White House after sitting out a term, after Grover Cleveland.
Biden, the incumbent president, is the presumptive Democratic nominee. He will be 81 when the election is held in November 2024, making him the oldest American ever to win a presidential election should he secure a second term.
Trump, 77, is dominating a field of 10 major candidates who have largely avoided criticizing him directly for fear of alienating his base of diehard supporters.
His Republican rivals, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, instead have argued that Trump’s legal woes will hamstring him in a general-election fight against Biden.
Two notable exceptions are Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who have both been critical of Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election outcome.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a newcomer to politics, is running as an inheritor of Trump’s populist, America First agenda, one that is wary of an expansive federal government, corporate power and international alliances.
DeSantis was once viewed as the most likely candidate to deny Trump the nomination, but his campaign has sputtered since launching in May despite having a big war chest. He risks falling into the rest of the pack behind Trump.
Polls show that Trump is largely tied with Biden in head-to-head matchups, with voters concerned about Biden’s age and his handling of the economy despite job growth, infrastructure investment and a slow easing of inflation after last year’s peak.
Trump faces indictments in four cases in federal and state courts for his efforts to undermine the 2020 election, his mishandling of classified documents and his involvement in a “hush money” scheme involving a porn star. He has maintained his innocence and argued that he is the victim of politically motivated prosecutions, an assertion the Biden administration denies. The legal calendars for those cases pose obstacles for Trump’s ability to campaign.
While voters may not be enthusiastic, Democratic leaders are backing Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., scion of the storied political family, who has pushed anti-vaccine and anti-COVID-19 safety views, is a long-shot challenger, as is 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson, a self-help author and speaker.
Biden’s pitch for a second four-year term rests on his stewardship of the economy as it has emerged from the COVID pandemic, and what he calls the “battle for the soul of America,” a fight against Trump-aligned Republicans.
Under Biden, unemployment dropped to generational lows, gross domestic product (GDP) grew faster than expected and wages have risen. However, inflation spiked last year, and, while it has eased in recent months, voters remain concerned about the high price of staples such as food, fuel, cars and housing.
Should Trump be the Republican nominee, much of Biden’s campaign is likely to focus on warning voters that Trump poses a mortal threat to American democracy, and that he will undermine U.S. foreign policy interests, and push through new tax cuts for the rich and for companies.
The lack of enthusiasm among voters for a Biden-Trump rematch suggests a third-party challenger could garner some support or push more Americans to sit out the election after 2020’s 66.8% voter turnout marked the highest level for a U.S. presidential election this century. A significant third-party candidate has yet to emerge, however.
Republicans will hold their first nominating contest in January with the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire will hold a more traditional presidential primary shortly thereafter, followed by Nevada, South Carolina and Michigan.
Democrats plan to hold their first primary in South Carolina in February, with Biden not expected to face a serious challenger. “Super Tuesday” – when more than a dozen states will award delegates to the party conventions, including California and Texas – will be on March 5.
Each party will nominate the candidate who receives the most delegates at their nominating conventions in the summer of 2024. Republicans will hold their convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while Democrats will stage theirs in Chicago.
The general election will be held on Nov. 5, 2024.
Abortion: Democrats plan to make abortion central to their 2024 campaign, with public opinion polls showing most Americans don’t favor strict limits on reproductive rights. The issue has become more motivating to those who support abortion rights than to those who oppose them, and the party is hoping threats to those rights will encourage millions of women and independents to vote their way next year.
The issue has divided Republicans, with some leaders concerned the party has gone too far with state-level restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling last year, ending constitutional protection for abortion.
Republican presidential candidates are split between those saying abortion laws should be left to the states and those supporting a national ban.
The Economy: Biden’s White House is trying to reassure Americans that the economy is in solid shape, with inflation slowing and unemployment at its lowest levels in a half-century.
Republicans say they will cut federal spending, which they blame for stoking inflation and triggering consumer-price spikes, trim back federal regulations and lower taxes.
Democrats argue the economy is healthy, wages are up and investments in infrastructure are producing long-term job gains.
Voters remain unconvinced. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in August, 42% percent of Biden’s 2020 voters said the economy was “worse” than it was in 2020, compared with 33% who said it was “better” and 24% who said it was “about the same.”
Immigration: Since taking office in 2021, Biden has grappled with record numbers of migrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, straining resources there and cities they have gone to, such as New York and Chicago. Republican candidates, including Trump, have blamed Biden for reversing more restrictive Trump-era policies and have pledged to step up border security. Some Democrats have criticized Biden for turning to Trump-style enforcement measures to reduce illegal crossings, while the White House maintains it is moving to a more humane and orderly system by offering new ways for migrants to enter legally.
Crime: Violent crime remains at higher levels across the nation than in 2019, the year before the COVID pandemic and unrest over racial justice. Americans of both parties are concerned, with 88% of respondents in a September Reuters/Ipsos poll saying crime would be an important issue for determining who gets their vote.
Foreign Policy: China has emerged as the foreign policy issue in the campaign, with Republicans arguing the Asian power is a growing threat to national security, U.S. corporate interests and Taiwan’s independence.
The Biden administration has said it wants to “de-risk” and not “de-couple” its relationship with China and work to keep the competition between the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 economic powers from escalating into conflict.
Ukraine is another major issue, and has split the Republican field. Trump and DeSantis argue that Biden’s support of Ukraine in its war with Russia is distracting the U.S. from preparing for a possible confrontation with China. Other Republican candidates, such as Pence and Haley, say the United States must continue to back Ukraine.
Biden, who has focused on rebuilding relations with allies after Trump’s presidency, has helped build an international coalition to help Ukraine fight Russia, and will likely highlight the importance of maintaining that policy on the campaign trail.
KEY STATES IN THE GENERAL ELECTION
That both parties are holding their conventions in the Midwest says much about the value they are placing on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of which went for Trump in 2016 and flipped to Biden in 2020.
Arizona, Georgia and Nevada have also proven to be closely divided and contain growing populations that could determine the next election. Another key battleground next year could be North Carolina, another Southern state with an increasingly diverse electorate.
(Reporting by James Oliphant, additional reporting by Ted Hesson and Heather Timmons, editing by Ross Colvin, Kieran Murray and Jonathan Oatis)
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