Aug 16, 2020 - Politics & Policy

No plane for Biden campaign

Campaign planes
Credit: (Clockwise from left) Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, David Greedy/Getty Images

The "campaign plane" is becoming another casualty of the pandemic.

Driving the news: Joe Biden's team hasn't booked any air travel — and thus has no need to lease an aircraft with the Democratic nominee's name and logo emblazoned on the side, a candidate tradition for decades, people familiar with the plans tell Axios.

The big picture: Biden is betting that following public health guidelines is the most strategic as well as responsible path to the presidency. Eschewing large events and staying grounded allows him to draw yet another contrast with President Trump, who is gassing up Air Force One to hit outdoor “hangar” rallies in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Arizona this week.

  • Most swing states have set limits on the size of any gatherings — though the campaigns may interpret them differently.
  • Officials with the campaign and in the states say Pennsylvania's limit for gatherings is 25 indoors and 250 outdoors; Michigan's are 10 and 100; Wisconsin has county-by-county rules.
  • Campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo contrasted Biden's approach with Trump in a lengthy statement that charges Trump with "gambling with American lives for his own political gain."

Biden aides say he hasn't completely ruled out flying between now and November — and that the campaign could change course if individual states change their guidelines.

Flashback: Presidential (and VP) campaigns typically unveil their planes over the summer, marking the final phase in the race. These aircraft take on looks, smells and stories of their own as they hurtle through the sky — sites for moving press conferences and private huddles with advisers through the highs, lows and decision points of every race.

  • Photographers traditionally snap photos of candidates waving from the steps and then scramble up into the back with the traveling reporters. Staff and U.S. Secret Service agents fill the middle section of the plane. The candidates (as well as their families and any VIPs) sit up front.

Over the years, photos have captured candidates' sometimes emotional reactions as they behold the glistening beasts that will transport them and embody their political status.

  • John McCain reacted with a look of surprise to see his name stenciled onto the side of his 737 on June 30, 2008.
  • Barack Obama boarded his “Change We can Believe” 757 on July 20, 2008.
  • Mitt Romney stepped onto his “Believe in America” plane August 31, 2012.
  • When Hillary Clinton let reporters onto her “Stronger Together” plane Sept. 5 2016, she called it “the last moment before the mad dash.”
  • Trump was an exception. In 2016, he said no thanks to a traditional campaign plane since he already had his own: He rode “Trump Force One" while the press corps followed on a separate charter, which sometimes got left behind.

Be smart: Some campaign veterans have been arguing for years for a permanent ground stoppage — and now there's an excuse.

  • “The days of the traditional campaign plane loaded with lots of press traveling around the country are over, even after the pandemic ends,” predicted Steve Duprey, a prominent New Hampshire Republican who had served as a senior adviser to McCain’s 2008 campaign. “The planes and the effort to staff and move them are expensive and time consuming."
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