The 2020 election season was disrupted early Oct. 2 with the news that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus and would begin a quarantine.
That adds to the drama of a race already dominated by the pandemic and dramatic contrasts between the candidates for the White House on everything from retirement savings and investing with environmental, social and governance issues in mind, to taxes and China.
Over his nearly four-year term, Mr. Trump has made dramatic changes on these issues, often through executive orders that bypass Congress. They include recent orders changing how retirement plan fiduciaries deal with ESG issues and proxy voting, and how investment advice fiduciaries receive compensation for their guidance.
Mr. Trump's ongoing concerns with national security risks from China led to several executive moves, including directing the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board overseeing the $612 billion Thrift Savings Plan to scrap plans to shift billions of dollars in retirement assets to an index fund that includes Chinese companies. Similar concerns led a top State Department official to warn university endowments to divest from Chinese companies that could wind up being delisted from U.S. exchanges.
Comparing the parties or their top-of-ticket candidates is more elusive than it was four years ago. The Republican National Convention adjourned without updating its 2016 platform. On retirement issues, that platform had a brief reference to pension plan portability and support for employee stock ownership plans that "enable workers to become capitalists." Mr. Trump has not issued a detailed plan.
The Democrats and presidential candidate Joe Biden have produced scores of ideas on everything from taxes to climate change.
The other key races this round are in the Senate, where Republicans maintain a three-seat majority that has led to numerous legislative stalemates on pressing issues such as helping the country and the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives.
Given those stalemates, it may turn out that not much changes in Washington when the 117th Congress convenes in January.
Democrats are expected to keep the House majority they gained in 2018 midway through Mr. Trump's term. That leaves scenarios ranging from no change in the White House or Congress if Mr. Trump is re-elected and Senate Republicans keep their majority, all the way to a Democratic-controlled White House and Congress, if Mr. Biden is elected and Democrats gain a Senate majority. Election results falling between the two extremes would mean the partisan wrangling continues.
Under any scenario, the practical reality is that either party would have a narrow majority and little ability to enact sweeping new legislative ideas. The 115th Congress, for example, had Republicans controlling both chambers and the White House, yet it was unable to fulfill a key campaign pledge to overturn the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The extra wrinkle this round is that both parties have to deal with the ongoing economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already upended traditional political calculations and forced Republicans and Democrats to the bargaining table several times.
"The last few months have seen an extraordinary amount of bipartisanship in fiscal policymaking," said S. Kenneth Leech, chief investment officer for fixed-income manager Western Asset Management Co. LLC, Pasadena, Calif., with $468.5 billion in assets under management. "Such bipartisanship is certainly not guaranteed to last," Mr. Leech noted in a recent client alert.
The biggest change could come on the regulatory front, depending on who is in the White House.
If Mr. Trump wins another term, he is expected to continue his deregulation push and finalize controversial rules from the Department of Labor and other agencies that favor companies but are strongly opposed by investor advocacy groups such as the Council of Institutional Investors.