Coronavirus forces presidential candidates to try 'virtual' campaigning

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Wednesday canceled gatherings scheduled for Friday and next Monday in Chicago and Miami, and declared it will hold “virtual events” instead.

The campaign said it was taking “steps … to minimize health risks for staff and supporters.”

It marks the start of what will be a virtual campaign for the next few weeks or months, due to escalating concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Biden is scheduled to give a speech Thursday in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., on the virus and how his campaign will navigate the months ahead.

The move to a form of virtual campaigning will have a less dramatic impact on the Democratic primary than it would have had a week or two ago, when the state of the race was far less settled.

With Biden establishing an imposing lead over Bernie Sanders, the suspense in the race has eased somewhat. However, a debate between the two candidates is still to come on Sunday, though there will be no audience in attendance due to public health concerns.

Joe Biden at a new auto plant in Detroit. (Carolyn Van Houten/Washington Post via Getty Images)

As Biden turns to a general election stategy against President Trump, fundraising may be one area that is negatively affected.

“It’s going to be a lot harder to raise major dollars at big events,” Alex Conant, a Republican operative who worked for Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign, told Yahoo News. “And Trump probably has an advantage there. Biden will likely lose out on some major dollar fundraising time.”

One Democratic operative confirmed that some fundraisers are being canceled by hosts and attendance is down at others that are still going forward.

If the economy moves into a recession, that too will hurt fundraising, Conant said.

Trump, too, will face challenges with fundraising. Late Wednesday the White House announced that the president’s planned trip to Las Vegas, which included a fundraiser with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, had been cancelled “out of an abundance of caution from the Coronavirus outbreak,” according to White House press secretary Stepanie Grisham.

First lady Melania Trump has also canceled a Beverly Hills fundraiser that had been scheduled for next week.

President Trump with supporters in Orlando, Fla., on March 9, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The Trump reelection campaign is currently on track to have around $400 million in cash on hand, according to a source close to the White House. The president has had a head start in raising money while Biden, until his campaign was resurrected two weeks ago in South Carolina, had only a few million dollars.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, has pledged to help Biden financially and spend “whatever it takes” to defeat Trump. Bloomberg, who is a multibillionaire, spent $600 million of his own fortune on his own short-lived presidential campaign.

The Trump campaign will have a clear advantage in digital advertising and fundraising, where they have been honing their operation for months.

On the elections side of things, the Democratic primaries will continue, but turnout is likely to be lower due to the virus and to Biden’s significant delegate lead over Sanders.

But some states are considering holding elections entirely by mail-in ballot. Legislators in Maryland said Wednesday they are planning for such an outcome for their April 28 primary, in case it is needed.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, announced legislation on Wednesday that would allow every American to vote by mail in federal elections if 25 states announce a state of emergency over the coronavirus.

There were also calls Wednesday to plan now for the possibility that the general election this fall is affected by the virus. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics published an article recommending that Congress pass legislation “with an automatic trigger on postponing the election based on an agreed-upon set of facts, such as a certain infection rate and mortality rate.”

One Republican operative said that a key benchmark over the next few months will be the party conventions. The Democrats are scheduled to hold their party nominating convention in Milwaukee in mid-July.

“If the conventions are on then everything goes back to normal. That’s a pretty key issue,” the operative said.

Already there are some who say the conventions should not be held.

“For the first time in the country’s history, the United States must contemplate canceling the Democratic and Republican national conventions and campaign rallies, and give serious consideration to arranging ways of organizing election day that don’t require in-person voting,” wrote Laurie Garrett, a global health expert.


Mayor Tom Barrett, right, and chair of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez announcing the selection of Milwaukee as the 2020 Democratic National Convention host city. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP)

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