Biden campaign plots stay-the-course strategy after Trump verdict

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By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt

(Reuters) – Typically, if your political opponent is convicted of a felony, it’s considered a rare gift.

But as the world anticipates a verdict in Donald Trump’s criminal case in New York, President Joe Biden’s campaign does not plan to change course, even for a guilty verdict.

Biden aides are happy to let other Democrats and allies paint Trump as a felon. Strategists have decided to keep the president’s focus on legislative accomplishments, threats to democracy and abortion access, according to two sources familiar with the planning.

The campaign is preparing a statement to be issued after a verdict that will remind supporters that “the only way to beat Trump is at the ballot box,” said an official familiar with the campaign’s strategy.

Biden’s campaign has been weighing how to handle the hush-money trial’s outcome for weeks, with some top campaign officials and Democratic allies pushing for doing more to highlight a guilty verdict if that is the jury’s decision.

While polling shows a guilty verdict could matter to voters, campaign officials believe in the end the jury’s decision – no matter the result – will not substantially change the dynamics of the election.

There are still some undecided points in Biden’s strategy, officials said, including whether they would label his Republican opponent a “convicted felon” in social media posts and campaign literature if he is found guilty.

The Biden campaign sought to seize on the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Trump trial on Tuesday by enlisting Hollywood star Robert De Niro to address the cameras outside the New York courthouse. The campaign provided talking points on Trump’s threat to democracy.

But campaign officials said the actor went off script and discussed a potential conviction.

“The fact is whether he’s acquitted, whether it’s hung jury, he is guilty — and we all know it,” De Niro said.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a payment that bought the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. Daniels had threatened to go public with her account of an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, a liaison he denies.

“The charges against President Trump should have never been filed and this show trial should have never occurred. The Biden Trial is craven election interference. President Trump is innocent and the American people know it,” Trump spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said in a statement. 

The New York case has meant the Republican presidential candidate spent more time in court than campaigning in recent weeks, though it is widely seen as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. None of the others are likely to go to trial before his November rematch with Biden.

Opinion polls show a guilty verdict could pose some danger for Trump in an election that will potentially be decided by just tens of thousands of votes in a handful of battleground states.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier his month, voters were asked how it would impact their vote if Trump were convicted in this case.

Among Trump voters, 6% said if he were convicted they would be less likely to vote for him, 24% say they would be more likely to vote for him, and 68% say it would not make a difference, the poll showed.

One in four Republicans said they would not vote for Trump if he is found guilty in a criminal trial, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll of registered voters in April. In the same survey, 60% of independents said they would not vote for Trump if he is convicted of a crime.

“Will a conviction sink Trump? The vast majority of his supporters say it would be no big deal. But in an extremely tight race, that 6% could tip the balance,” Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy said.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Deepa Babington and Cynthia Osterman)

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