With less than a month to go before the presidential election, the general consensus is that over 80% of Americans who will vote have decided between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. That still leaves millions of votes in the balance. A relatively small group of people still could sway enough of those votes to influence the outcome
The editors at 24/7 Wall St. reviewed several hundred people who either themselves or through their organizations reach enough people that their opinions, or the results of their work, could be critical to the election’s outcome. These include politicians, members of the media, donors, highly regarded private citizens, members of the current administration and members of the judiciary. In each case, the question was the same: Can this person make a meaningful difference about how people vote that will have an impact sometime between now and Election Day, November 3?
People whose actions to affect the outcome happened primarily earlier than today are not included. This would include former President Barack Obama, because he made his endorsement of Biden on April 14.
After sifting through all the options, 24/7 Wall St. came up with this list of the 25 people most likely to affect the presidential election.
1. Sean Hannity. The Fox News host is considered the most powerful person in cable television news, and one of Trump’s staunchest supporters. His show had an average total audience of 4.454 million viewers. Hannity interviews the president as often as twice a month and is one of the few people who can press Trump’s agenda regularly.
2. Vladimir Putin. There is already a large body of evidence that both Russian and Chinese hackers have been involved with hacking election and candidate sites. Microsoft announced that the Russian military arm that hit the Democratic National Committee in 2016 is back in action. Voter lists and emails are vulnerable, which means there is actually a risk that vote tallies or results could be disrupted. Putin, the president of Russia, is generally considered at the center of efforts to disrupt the American elections and tip the scales toward Trump.
3. Mitch McConnell. Widely viewed as the second most powerful Republican in America, the Senate Majority leader has rarely broken with Trump in public. He is in charge of shepherding the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. McConnell has been concerned about Trump’s actions recently, particularly in the first debate with Biden.
4. Steven Mnuchin. The Secretary of the Treasury is the point person for Trump’s efforts to get a stimulus package through Congress that will help America’s unemployed and, in particular, several large industries. The Democrats would rather see money go to individuals. If the Democrats win the tug of war over the use of the money, Trump looks weak.
5. Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House is Trump’s greatest single political enemy. Her best chance to hurt Trump between now and the election is to deny him a pro-business stimulus package. Pelosi is also as powerful and visible as Biden in this race for the Democrats to control both parties of Congress and the White House.
6. Stephen Ohlemacher. Associated Press Election Decision Editor Ohlemacher oversees a system that makes decisions about who the winners are in over 7,000 national, state and local elections. The “calls” carry great weight. Once the AP or any other major national news organization says whether Trump or Biden wins will put great pressure on the other to concede.
7. Michael Pence. Vice President Pence is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He has become the face of the White House as Trump is kept off the campaign trail by his COVID-19 infection. Pence has become the center of the president’s campaign. He also has to consider what outcome best serves his chance to be the candidate in 2024.
8. Kamala Harris. Harris is not only the Democrat’s candidate for vice president. She is also the most likely person to undermine the prospects of Barrett, in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she is a member. Two Republican members, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, have tested positive for COVID-19, giving the Democrats a small opening to slow the nomination process in the committee and before it goes to the floor of the Senate.
9. Dr. Stephen M. Hahn. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ultimately has to give any COVID-19 vaccine a green light to be released for distribution to the general public. The White House continues to say it can override tough rules on how quickly a vaccine can be released. FDA Commissioner Hahn has stated that the agency “will not authorize or approve a vaccine that we would not feel comfortable giving to our families.” Maybe.
10. Michael Bloomberg. The 19th richest man in America and former presidential candidate has a net worth of $55 billion. By some estimates, he has spent nearly $800 million supporting Democrats in the current election, most recently $100 million to support Biden in Florida. Bloomberg can distribute money to any state where he thinks he can change close results.
11. Oprah Winfrey. Among America’s most visible celebrities for decades, Winfrey also is a liberal political activist. This election season, her largest effort is to help black women to vote in greater numbers, almost certainly helping Biden. Her “OWN Your Vote: Our Lives Depend on It” effort is the spearhead of Oprah’s 2020 election projects.
12. John Oliver. The host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” is one of Trump’s most brutal critics. The show has one of the largest crossover audiences on cable, with as many people streaming the show as watching on TV. Each episode is seen by over 4 million people. Oliver has three or four shows left and could attack Trump during each of them.
13. Ivanka Trump. Always a surrogate for her father in public, her role has become much larger since he has been sidelined by COVID-19 and with a chance he will not be able to participate in the second debate against Biden. The strength of her public appearances is essential to the president’s chances at reelection.
14. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The congress member is one of Biden’s most effective surrogates, albeit on the left edge of his party. However, she has bristled at Biden’s efforts to distance himself from some of what she thinks are key issues. The most important of these is the Green New Deal. Biden needs her to keep up the pressure on Trump while maintaining party support in the more liberal wing of the Democratic party.
15. Amy Coney Barrett. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is considered almost certain to be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and by the full Senate. However, the strength of her appearances in the approval process will reflect on Trump’s decision. The history of Supreme Court nominations shows that no one is a “lock.” If her nomination falls apart, it undermines the last weeks of his campaign.
16. Chuck Schumer. The Senate Minority Leader is the last, best chance, the Democratic Party has to block Barrett’s nomination and a Trump stimulus plan that will help businesses more than individuals. Both are signature programs Trump has to win to show his base that he can deliver.
17. Dr. Sean Conley. The president’s physician finds himself at odds with some members of the White House staff and most of the press about the president’s health. Although it is not entirely clear that comments about the president’s COVID-19 progress are directly from the president, Conley’s outlook is considered optimistic. He needs to press the narrative about the mildness of Trump’s symptoms hard in order to convince voters that the president is healthy.
18. Senator Lindsay Graham. As Trump falls well behind in the national polls and Graham’s Senate race against Democrat Jaime Harrison in South Carolina now is essentially a tie, the Senator has to decide how strongly and publicly he will support the president. As chair of the Senate Judiciary, Graham is also the essential cornerstone in the confirmation of Barrett to the Supreme Court, which has become slightly less likely as COVID-19 has affected several Republican Senators.
19. Dr. Anthony Fauci. As Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci will have a number of opportunities to continue his campaigns for social distancing, masks, comments about the vaccine and common-sense public health measures. What is not clear is how forceful he will be in his assessment of behaviors of Trump and his inner circle as the best examples yet of what happens when a shortlist of rules is ignored.
20. Kathy Boockvar. The Pennsylvania Secretary of State certifies the votes in her state, which is among the most important of the battleground states in the election. Will legal hurdles slow her effort well beyond election day and possibly push the state’s results into the courts? The Trump campaign says its poll watchers were thrown out of several locations in Pennsylvania, an early basis for possible legal challenges of how the election was managed. Boockvar’s problem is not unique and may come up in other states. Mail-in ballots alone could be challenged elsewhere.
21. Members of the Supreme Court. In 2000, the election results of the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush made it to the Supreme Court over the validity of ballots cast in Florida. Questions about ballot certification, particularly mail-in ballots, could be a huge issue on or after election day. Each campaign has lawyers in virtually every state in preparations for these challenges
22. Cindy McCain. The widow of John McCain, who held a Senate seat in Arizona from 1987 until his death in 2018, already has endorsed Joe Biden. She continues to speak openly in support of the former vice president. Arizona was critical to Trump’s 2016 victory due to its 11 electoral votes.
23. Sheldon G. and Miriam O. Adelson. They are traditionally among the largest donors to the Republican Party, and to Donald Trump. If the president needs money, particularly for TV commercials in one or more states, they may be a source of funds. They have given over $50 million to the party and Trump already.
24. Martin Baron. He is executive editor of the Washington Post. If there is an “October surprise,” it is likely to come from one of America’s two most influential newspapers. Each has the reporting capacity to do deep investigative work into election issues and into the lives of the candidates at levels no other media can match. His counterpart at The New York Times, Executive Editor Dean P. Baquet, is in a similar position.
25. Stacey Abrams. She ran for governor of Georgia in 2018 and lost by a small margin. She gave the Democrat’s response to the State of the Union Address, which put her squarely on the national stage. She currently runs Fair Fight Action, the goal of which is to fight voter suppression. Biden’s lead in the polls in Georgia is razor-thin. Abrams could be a key to swing the state’s 16 electoral votes his way.