Mar 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

How the coronavirus is changing Joe Biden's campaign playbook

Vice President Joe Biden holds a virtual campaign event in Chicago, Illinois. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

He built a TV studio at home, starts each day with three hours of medical and economic impact briefings, and checks in with congressional leaders. And, we're not talking about President Trump.

State of play: Joe Biden is overhauling his campaign — and standing up a shadow presidency of sorts — amid a national emergency that's eclipsed all other news.

  • The coronavirus has pushed 2020 coverage to the back burner and thrust President Trump into a unique spotlight with televised daily briefings, and town halls unbound from the concept of "equal time."

Situational awareness: A Gallup poll out Tuesday shows Trump's approval rating back at 49% — his peak — suggesting a national rallying effect amid the virus threat and response.

  • The latest Monmouth University poll now shows a tight general election race, with Biden beating Trump by 3 percentage points. The same poll shows Biden leading by 9 percentage points in 300 swing counties where the 2016 margin was 10 points or less.

What they're saying: Biden, appearing Tuesday on ABC's "The View" from his Delaware basement, toggled between the importance of listening to doctors and scientists about the virus, and reiterating that his campaign will soon be vetting a list of prospective women to be his running mate.

  • Also on Tuesday, Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump “should stop talking and start listening to the medical experts."
  • Anita Dunn, a senior advisor to Biden's 2020 campaign, tells Axios the campaign is focused on addressing the health and economic impacts of coronavirus but also sees the opportunity to draw clear contrasts with the incumbent president.
  • "At times of national crisis, Americans want their leaders to pull together and to put forward solutions," she said. "But that doesn’t mean that they don’t still see this as a choice."
  • Biden's approach across a number of televised and virtual events in recent days has been to refrain from blaming President Trump for the coronavirus, while pointedly criticizing his response to it.

Don't forget: Though Biden's delegate lead over Bernie Sanders is seen as nearly insurmountable, he doesn't yet have the 1,991 needed to secure the majority toward the Democratic nomination.

  • The coronavirus began disrupting all candidates' events weeks ago. There can be no in-person events, making rallies and other traditional gatherings impossible.
  • Virtual fund-raisers are the latest way to talk to donors. “The president likes to say, 'No one could see this coming.' Well that's just not true," Biden said at a Monday night tele-fundraiser, which was "attended" by 117 people. "President Obama and I, when we left office, we identified the potential devastation that a pandemic could bring to America, and to the world."
  • Sanders, who has live-streamed national remarks on the coronavirus, also is reconsidering his approaches on everything from attack ads to donations because of the virus.

There was little 2020 discussion on any of the Sunday shows last weekend.

  • But over the past few weeks, news consumption has skyrocketed in the U.S. as more Americans are working from home or not working, and watching more hours of news coverage about the coronavirus.

Biden is positioning himself as a sort of shadow president — equipped with his own coronavirus plan, a coronavirus task force, and receipts of when he sounded the alarm on the anticipated impacts of the virus back in January.

  • “Trump keeps saying that he's a 'wartime president.' Well, start to act like one,” Biden said during live-streamed remarks about the pandemic on Monday, which had 230,000 people watching, per the campaign

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign is pumping out cost-effective videos on the virus.

  • One featuring Biden's coronavirus task force coordinator Ron Klain, who was the Ebola response coordinator under President Obama, got over 4 million views in three days.
  • He uses a whiteboard to outline Trump's response to coronavirus so far, and what Biden would do differently if elected president.
  • A March 22 video with 1.5 million views shows alternating clips of Trump and Biden responding to questions about the coronavirus, with a narrator who concludes: “This moment calls for a president. In November, you can elect one.”

This unique moment doesn't just change the logistics of campaigning. It shapes the type of messages and tone candidates share with voters to convince the country they're ready to lead in a global crisis like this.

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