As the race enters its final days, and November, no October surprise ever materialized for Trump.
President Trump began the fall campaign rooting for, and trying to orchestrate, a last-minute surprise that would vault him ahead of Joseph R. Biden Jr.
A coronavirus vaccine. A dramatic economic rebound. A blockbuster Justice Department investigation. A grievous misstep by a rival he portrayed as faltering. A scandal involving Mr. Biden and his son Hunter.
But as the campaign nears an end, and with most national and battleground-state polls showing Mr. Trump struggling, the cavalry of an October surprise that helped him overtake Hillary Clinton in 2016 has not arrived.
That has left Mr. Trump running on a record of an out-of-control pandemic, an economy staggered by disease, and questions about his own style and conduct that have made him a polarizing figure.
Some events that flashed across the political landscape gave Mr. Trump’s political circle hope for a lift: an opening on the Supreme Court, street protests that the president sought to blame on Democrats and even his three-day hospitalization with the coronavirus, which some advisers had hoped might make him more empathetic.
None of it appears to have made a difference. If anything, the come-and-go nature of what seemed like earth-moving moments underlined the central and fundamentally stable dynamics of the race. Opinions about Mr. Trump are largely set.
More than anything, the race was defined by the pandemic that exploded into the public consciousness in March and that Mr. Trump has struggled to manage as both a health care and a political issue.
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