Biden seeks transition to general election campaign
When Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE transitions to the general election in the coming days, he’ll have to run his campaign during the thick of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is no playbook for this time, no best laid plans, nothing,” said one longtime ally who’s in touch with the campaign. “He needs to figure out the best way to navigate these strange waters at a time when he can’t do what he does best, which is connect with people.”
In the age of the elbow bump and social distancing, Biden can’t hold traditional campaign rallies, large fundraisers or linger with crowds holding court as he’s been known to do. For the coming weeks — and maybe even months — it will be a virtual campaign. And that’s what scares his supporters most.
“When Biden can’t be Biden, we have a problem,” the ally said.
Strategists say as Biden pivots to the general election, he needs to begin the transition by setting the right tone, even if he can’t appear before gymnasium crowds and shake hands following events.
“He has to be the shadow president,” said Basil Smikle, a former aide to Hilary Clinton who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, adding that Biden can do small events captured by the press and use social media to push out videos and information about how the country can recover.
Even without holding traditional rallies Biden can “take a note from how governors have responded to the crisis and show how he’d work with states, where this president has not,” Smikle said.
In a speech from his home on Tuesday night, following primary victories in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, Biden spoke at length about the crisis taking a toll on the United States.
He called tackling the coronavirus pandemic “akin to fighting a war.”
“It will require leadership and cooperation from every level of government,” he said. “It will require us to move thoughtfully and decisively to address both the public health crisis and the economic crisis we’re in.”
“It will require us to pay attention to the medical and scientific and health experts,” he continued. “And it will require each and every one of us to do our part. Yes, this is a moment where we need our leaders to lead.”
As the nation slows down with many voters holed up in their homes, Biden can use the time to catch his breath too, say strategists.
“He has been better in smaller settings, and this era of video conferences and tele-town halls may be a short-term benefit to him,” Democratic strategist Joel Payne said.
“Also, given the normal wear and tear that a full time campaign schedule would put on any candidate, much less a 77-year-old who has struggled with the rigors of the trail, having some downtime as he moves comfortably into front-runner status with a nontraditional, lighter campaign schedule may allow him to be fully charged for a post-convention run through the tape on Election Day,” Payne said.
Democrats say the pandemic could give Trump a boost as November inches closer.
Trump is using the bully pulpit daily to discuss his response to the coronavirus, and is pressing for a large stimulus package meant to help the economy.
Yet the coronavirus also represents an existential political threat to Trump, whose leadership is coming under even heavier scrutiny.
It is likely that the coronavirus pandemic and its handling by U.S. leaders will help determine the presidential election in the fall.
“Much of the election will be decided over the handling of [coronavirus] and how the economy is faring at the end of it,” one Biden ally acknowledged.
Smikle agreed with that sentiment.
“Although Trump has been terrible in handling this emergency and the market has responded predictably, he has time to get better, especially since he can be on TV in front of voters every day,” he said. “He can gain an advantage because of the platform.”
In recent days, Biden has spent much of his time campaigning virtually from his home state of Delaware and canceling events in Ohio and elsewhere.
“I know this isn’t the way any of us would prefer to connect and engage,” the former vice president said during a tele-town hall Monday. “I appreciate everyone bearing with us as we figure out all the logistics of campaigning in an entirely new way here.”
In the address from his home on Tuesday night, Biden reiterated the challenge ahead not just for the country but for the campaign.
“The pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives and every aspect of this campaign,” he said.