An earlier version of this article was published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

Hello, friends, especially to my fellow Boston Celtics fans out there. Here’s to cautious optimism.

3 things to know

  • Half the town is in a swing state, half the town isn’t — that’s the case for Wendover, a community on the Nevada-Utah border, where some voters could help decide the 2024 election. On the Nevada side of the street, residents are being flooded with campaign texts, robocalls and mailers. On the Utah side, though, things are quiet. “They’re dynamic, and we’re not,” the Wendover, Utah, mayor said. “It’s really that simple.” Read more here.
  • The Hunter Biden trial began this week, in which the president’s son is charged with lying on federal forms when purchasing a gun in 2018. First lady Jill Biden has appeared in the courtroom to support her stepson. If convicted, Biden could face up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. Read more here.
  • The path to the White House runs through the West — and for the Senate, too. While Arizona and Nevada are critical battleground states in the presidential race, key Senate elections in both states, along with Montana, could determine whether Democrats keep the majority or Republicans retake control. Read more here.

The Big Idea

Biden, a ‘bad candidate’? Polls say so

A Wall Street Journal story on Wednesday sent the White House reeling. Titled “Behind Closed Doors, Biden Shows Signs of Slipping,” the report offered private illustrations of what the public has seen for some time: that President Joe Biden, now 81, is showing signs of his age, often mumbling or forgetful in closed-door interactions with lawmakers. The Journal relied on more than 45 sources, most anonymous, that weaved a consistent narrative: Biden is not the same person he once was.

The White House quickly went into damage control. Several lawmakers ran to Biden’s defense — including, surprisingly, Sen. Mitt Romney, who said he is not concerned about the president’s fitness for the job. “When we get older like me, we may not be as sharp as we once were,” Romney said. “But we, hopefully, make up for that with wisdom and better judgment.”

The Trump campaign jumped on the Journal story, saying it was a sign Biden is unfit for office. (Trump, 77, is just four years younger.) But as Donald Trump campaigns through the West this weekend, he will find voters with a different, less salacious view: Biden, they say, is just a bad candidate.

Trump will intersperse fundraising events in California with campaign stops — in Phoenix yesterday, in Las Vegas Sunday. In 2020, Biden won both Arizona and Nevada. Now, Trump maintains a polling lead in both: in Arizona, Trump leads by five percentage points; in Nevada, by six.

The two states are battlegrounds — among the six or seven that could determine the election. In both states, Trump benefits from a perfect storm. Voters there say immigration and the economy are their top issues, and they widely see Trump as stronger on both. And though both states have strong Democratic bases, Biden is widely unpopular.

Take the polling for statewide Senate races in both states. In Arizona, where Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, likely will face Kari Lake, a Republican, Gallego has a 10-percentage-point lead. In Nevada, incumbent Sen. Jacky Rosen has at least a 6-percentage-point lead against any prospective Republican challenger. And yet, Trump is beating Biden in both. The issue in these states, isn’t Democrat unpopularity; it’s Biden.

“Biden is just not that strong of a candidate,” said Mike Noble, head of Noble Predictive Insights, one of the Southwest’s top polling firms. “Here’s the thing: Trump is a bad candidate, too. They’re both bad candidates. It’s just given the choice, we know that voters view Trump better on the economy than Biden.”

According to a New York Times/Siena College poll last month, both Arizona and Nevada voters view the economy as the top issue. In both states, 61% of voters say they trust Trump to do a better job than Biden in handling the economy.

In Nevada, immigration is the second-most important issue for voters; in Arizona, immigration is tied with abortion. Both issues could be on the ballot in Arizona. A controversial immigration measure was approved by the Arizona state legislature this week, meaning it will go before voters this fall. It would make immigration a state crime and empower local police to arrest and jail unauthorized immigrants. Meanwhile, pro-abortion groups are rallying to add a right-to-abortion constitutional measure to the ballot.

Photo of the week

Bryan Arrington, who is trying to gain support for his campaign for president, poses for a photo in West Wendover on Friday, May 31, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

At least one Utahn is running for president: Bryan Arrington, 35, of Wendover, Utah. Arrington’s platform is cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform. An independent candidate, Arrington has yet to qualify for any state ballots. “Running independent is possible. If you just look and see what’s required, you can do it,” Arrington told me in a parking lot in Wendover last week. “That’s the thing about America. We have the freedom to run. If you want to run, it’s what you make it.”

Weekend reads

Time Magazine interviewed both Trump and Biden. Both are wide-ranging and worth your time. The two most striking nuggets to me: Trump said he would use the National Guard to round up and deport unauthorized immigrants if reelected; and Biden came as close as he has to criticizing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu — saying “there is every reason” to assume Netanyahu is prolonging the war for his own political gain. Read the full interviews here: Trump; Biden.

What should voters do who can’t bring themselves to vote for either Trump or Biden? This writer makes the case that they shouldn’t vote for either — because one’s personal conscience will have more weight than a single vote could sway the election. It’s an interesting argument, and to The Dispatch’s credit, a counterargument is proffered, too (read that here).

No, Biden did not approve an assassination attempt on Trump, though the former president repeatedly claimed that he did. The approval for the FBI to use “deadly force” if necessary in its classified documents raid of Mar-a-Lago last year was typical boilerplate language, a new report shows, and was used in a raid of Biden’s Delaware residence, too. It Was Legal Boilerplate. Trump Made It Sound Like a Threat to His Life. (Alan Feuer, The New York Times)

See you on the trail.

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.