This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

One story for you to follow, from my colleague Gitanjali Poonia: Gavin Newsom’s not-so-hidden presidential ambitions. I saw the California governor at the last Republican presidential debate in September. Every reporter wanted to know: Will he run for president? He said “no” in every creative way possible. But he’s young — perhaps the biggest factor working against Joe Biden — and is surely posturing for a run, either for next year or 2028. Read more from Gitanjali here.

For more Deseret News 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

2024: Awful policies or an awful person?

Think back to August 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. Racial justice protests were surging in dozens of U.S. cities. Forest fires blazed across the American West. The presidential election seemed to pour gasoline on it all, pitting a once-impeached incumbent against a self-ordained unifier, in what would later be called the “dirtiest” race for the White House, ever.

In the middle of it all, Sen. Mitt Romney made a surprise trip to Salt Lake City. Senior leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invited him to come brief them on the election. According to a new biography by McKay Coppins, Romney gave them a succinct overview. “The way I look at this choice,” he said, “is that you can choose an awful person or awful policies. It’s one or the other. And your choice will depend on which you consider more important.”

Now, over three years later, the country seems to be barreling toward a repeat of the 2020 election: a showdown between President Joe Biden (who, according to Romney, has “awful policies”) versus former President Donald Trump (Romney: an “awful person”). Perhaps more surprisingly, Americans seem increasingly willing to agree with Romney’s analysis.

A new poll from The New York Times and Siena College suggests that voters are increasingly disgruntled with the Biden administration’s economic and foreign policies. But if Trump is convicted of any of the 91 felony charges against him, it could be enough to cost him the election, the poll shows.

The poll was conducted among registered voters in six key swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Some key policy-related findings:

  • 59% trust Trump to do a better job on the economy; 37% trust Biden.
  • On immigration, it’s 53% for Trump, 41% for Biden.
  • On national security, 53% Trump, 41% Biden.

Overall, if they were asked to vote today, 48% say they’d back Trump, and 44% would vote for Biden.

But the calculus changes quickly with the possibility of a Trump conviction. The former president faces over 90 criminal charges in several cases, dealing with his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, mishandling classified documents and misclassifying hush money payments.

If Trump is convicted on any of these charges, around 6% of voters surveyed say they’d switch their vote from Trump to Biden — which would likely be enough to swing the election.

Romney, for his part, came to believe that having a good, moral president was more important than one who agreed with Romney’s policy preference. “I think what presidents accomplish by virtue of their personal character is at least as great as what they accomplish by virtue of their policies,” he told Coppins. It seems the 2024 election may hinge upon whether voters agree.

What I’m reading ...

Democrats in disarray? David Axelrod, one of the most-respected Democratic strategists, made an unusual call Sunday: Biden should consider dropping out. Axelrod, who ran Obama’s 2012 campaign, cited the aforementioned NYT/Siena poll, showing Biden as weak in a number of key states. “Only (Biden) can make this decision,” he wrote. “If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?” Axelrod suggests Biden drop out of 2024 presidential race (Miranda Nazzaro, The Hill)

Florida was ground-zero for the GOP presidential race over the weekend, where candidates converged at the Florida Freedom Summit. It turned into a dogfight between the two candidates who call Florida home: Gov. Ron DeSantis, who stood in front of a background that said “Florida is DeSantis Country” during his speech, and Trump, whose backdrop read “Florida is Trump Country.” Only so much room for creativity, I suppose. DeSantis struggles to defend his home turf (Shelby Talcott, Semafor)

While Trump’s legal challenges are a deterrent for undecided voters, they’ve largely helped him in the GOP primary. An anti-Trump group tested a series of TV ads that highlighted Trump’s charges and claimed they’d keep him from winning the election. The problem? Most of the ads actually made the voters more likely to back Trump, seeing him as a martyr or a victim of unjust, politicized accusations. An anti-Trump group produced four ads attacking his legal troubles. They backfired. (Alex Isenstadt, Politico)

What to watch

Wednesday is the third Republican presidential debate (6 p.m. MST, NBC). Attendees will include DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott. Trump, who qualified for the debate but will not attend, is hosting a campaign rally down the street. Keep an eye out for our coverage — we’re doing something a tad unorthodox this time. More on that soon.

Any election-related questions for our Friday Mailbag? Send them my way — onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

See you on the trail.

Samuel.

Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.