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Four years after he took an escalator ride that upended American politics, President Donald Trump will officially launch his 2020 reelection bid Tuesday.
Even after he took office in January 2017, the president never stopped campaigning. He has held rallies in key electoral states and reeled off his achievements at every turn. But the event in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday will kick off a 17-month slog in which Trump will try to knock off a Democratic challenger intent on denying him a second term.
Trump starts the campaign season in an unusual spot for a president: overseeing a strong economy but facing low approval ratings. He now sets out to convince voters in states where he scraped out 2016 victories — from Florida to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that he deserves another four years in the White House.
After a national Fox News poll released Sunday found the president trailing former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders by 10 and 9 percentage points, respectively, the president tweeted that the network's surveys "are always bad for me." He claimed "our polls show us leading in all 17 Swing States" — without referencing any specific numbers.
A leaked internal poll taken by the Trump campaign in March showed the president trailing Biden by double digits in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan, all of which he won in 2016. It also found him lagging the former vice president in North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia, states he won by comfortable margins in his first presidential bid.
Biden leads Trump by 9 percentage points in Florida, while Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren sit 6 and 4 percentage points ahead of the president there, respectively, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. All of those leads are larger than the survey's margin of error.
By kicking off his campaign in Orlando, Trump hopes to keep his foothold in a state that delivered 29 electoral votes on his way to the White House in 2016. The president carried Florida by about a percentage point in 2016. Last year, Republicans won closely contested statewide races for governor and the U.S. Senate there.
Of course, polls 17 months before an election can only say so much. Events between now and November 2020 — including a potentially bruising campaign to choose the Democratic presidential nominee — could swing the race in Trump's favor.
A Tuesday Orlando Sentinel op-ed endorsing "Not Donald Trump" illustrates the issues the president faces with many voters. The newspaper's editorial board acknowledged stock market gains, a sliding unemployment rate and rising wages during Trump's presidency. But it put more emphasis on the president's character.
"Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election, and before knowing the identity of his opponent," the board wrote ahead of Trump's kickoff rally in Orlando. "Because there's no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump. After 2½ years we've seen enough. Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies."
"So many lies — from white lies to whoppers — told out of ignorance, laziness, recklessness, expediency or opportunity."
Americans often vote with their wallets in mind. A healthy economy — marked by steady but weakening jobs gains, climbing wages and solid gross domestic product growth — should help Trump's reelection bid. It may not carry him on its own, though.
In Florida, for example, 54% of voters say they are better off financially than they were in 2016, while only 23% say they are worse off, the Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday found. The same survey found 44% of voters approve of the job he is doing, while 51% disapprove.
Nationally, Trump has only about a 44% approval rating, versus 54% disapproval, according to a RealClearPolitics average. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month found 70% of voters rate the economy as "excellent" or "good," while 77 percent say the same about their personal financial situation.
Still, the same survey found only 41% of voters give Trump credit for the economy. The poll found Trump trailing major Democratic presidential candidates, Biden, Sanders, Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris by 7 percentage points or more nationally.
"A very sturdy economy and folks with money in the bank. That's the magic combo the White House hopes to ride to reelection and those numbers remain solid," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement accompanying the poll's release. "But Trump does not get that much credit."