Election Day is three weeks from today, although whether definitive results will be known that night is an open question. Friends accuse me of being overly optimistic, but I'm not anticipating chaos. Then again, I didn't foresee self-described communists tearing down statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt with impunity in a major American city, either, which happened last weekend.
However long it takes to count the votes, the stakes are high: Will Donald Trump be given four more years in the White House? Public opinion surveys suggest not. The Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is now ahead in the RealClearPolitics polling average nationally by 10.2 percentage points. That would be a lot of ground to make up in three weeks even if millions of Americans hadn't already voted.
Of course, as we learned last time, a candidate can lose the popular vote by a significant margin and still prevail comfortably in the Electoral College. But Biden also leads Trump in almost all the so-called swing states, though those margins are significantly closer than the national gap. For reasons known only to himself, Trump skipped the second debate with his opponent, scheduled for this evening, which put him in the role of a football coach running out the clock while trailing by two touchdowns late in the game.
If Biden holds on to his lead, he'll be the 44th U.S. president to live in the White House -- all of them except George Washington. It was during Washington's presidency, on this very date in 1792, that the cornerstone was laid for the new executive mansion. It was destined to be called -- at first unofficially and later by fiat – "the White House."
In the ensuing years, it would be torched by the British, and remodeled and improved numerous times, and used for purposes ranging from weddings and Christmas parties to historic peace deals and somber addresses to the nation, including one resignation speech. State dinners and concerts have been held there. So have political rallies, partisan maneuverings, and fateful declarations by the commander-in-chief. Countless Americans have gone there to meet presidents or hear them speak, ranging from John Wilkes Booth to Martin Luther King. Alice Paul led demonstrations at the front gate that eventually resulted in the 19th Amendment.
Through it all, "the people's house" has stood as an ever-changing symbol of democratic self-government. It's a lot to put on a building -- and its occupants.
On Nov. 1, 1800, President John Adams moved into the White House. On the verge of losing his reelection bid to Thomas Jefferson, Adams wasn't in a state of mind to appreciate the place. But how could he, anyway?
Not only was the drafty building barely furnished, the construction wasn't even completed. Putting the best face on things, however, Adams dutifully wrote his wife, Abigail (still in Massachusetts), a letter beneath a dateline reading: "Presidents house. Washington City."
"My dearest friend," Adams' letter began, "we arrived here last night, or rather yesterday, at one o Clock and here we dined and Slept. The Building is in a State to be habitable. And now we wish for your Company."
The nation's second president concluded his brief missive with another poignant sentiment, this one for the ages:
"Before I end my Letter I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it," John Adams declared. "May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof."
It is a prayer, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, that has not been answered fully. And today, as Abigail tried to tell him at the time, we would render that hope as extending to "wise men and women." Yet, in their considerable wisdom, Adams and the other Framers decreed that occupancy.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.