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Even With A Double-Digit Lead Over Trump, Biden Campaign Is Anxious

NOEL KING, HOST:

Joe Biden has a fairly steady lead over President Trump in most national and key state polls. But Democratic voters say, we've been here before, and that anxiety, well, that's fine with the Biden campaign. Here's NPR's Scott Detrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS HONKING)

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Joe Biden spent much of a recent drive-in rally in Durham, N.C., speaking over the steady honk of car horns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Hello, North Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

DETROW: The thing about a car horn - it only has one tone. That wasn't the case with the Biden supporters behind the wheels. Take Misty Herget and her husband Clay.

MISTY HERGET: I'm very encouraged by the significant turnout we've had so far with early voting. And I think - I am encouraged, and I feel confident.

DETROW: And yet not too confident - in fact, pretty anxious.

CLAY: Once bitten, twice shy right now. So...

HERGET: Hopeful but still skeptical a little bit.

DETROW: Turnout in North Carolina has been strong so far. Democrats appear to be banking far more votes. That should all be good news for Democrats, especially given Biden's wide and steady national polling lead. But many are like the Hergets - constantly shifting between confidence and anxiety. Across the parking lot, sitting in a red convertible, Lydia Lavelle, the mayor of Carrboro, said Democrats need to keep a foot in both of those camps right now.

LYDIA LAVELLE: I think we need to be careful not to get complacent and not to get too excited about all the turnout and all the enthusiasm because that may have got us in trouble in the past.

DETROW: D.D. Adams, a councilwoman in Winston-Salem, put it another way as she sat on the roof of her SUV with her feet through the sunroof.

D D ADAMS: Don't let the smooth taste fool you. Don't drink the Kool-Aid and don't buy into these polls.

DETROW: The Biden campaign certainly doesn't want any of its base to feel too confident again. After all, most Democrats blame complacency for their 2016 loss, among other factors. That's why the campaign recently released a memo urging supporters not to put too much stock in all the polls showing Biden up big. Here's senior adviser Symone Sanders.

SYMONE SANDERS: Look - in key battleground states, where we know this election will be decided, we in fact remain neck and neck with Donald Trump.

DETROW: Indeed, Biden's polling lead in North Carolina is only a couple of points. And in one of the states likely more important, Pennsylvania, Biden has a steady but also narrow lead over Trump. Trump's campaign insists they've made up ground and are even ahead, but during a recent campaign swing in Pennsylvania, Trump didn't exactly sound like someone cruising to a second term.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Suburban women, will you please like me?

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Please. Please.

CHRISTOPHER NICHOLAS: It is a rare place I do a poll that Trump is close to what he got there in 2016.

DETROW: Christopher Nicholas is one of several Republican operatives who are far gloomier about Trump's chances than the president's campaign is. The longtime Pennsylvania strategist says 2020 is going to be harder for Trump than 2016. For one thing, as the incumbent during a recession and pandemic, the president likely won't win over the late-breaking voters who shifted his way four years ago. And unlike in 2016, there probably won't be a big share of third-party voters.

NICHOLAS: Trump got 48.6% of the vote here last time. If he manages to get that again, I don't think he wins with 48.6%.

DETROW: On top of all that, Biden and Democrats are swamping Trump and Republicans with ads. Still, don't expect Democrats to feel confident at any point over the next two weeks. At the drive-in rally in Durham, I ask Misty Herget whether anything could happen before the polls close on November 3 to make her feel at ease.

HERGET: Probably not (laughter).

DETROW: And that's exactly how Biden's campaign wants it to be.

Scott Detrow, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF'S "RED-EYE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.