Biden battles for attention as coronavirus threatens to blunt Democrat's
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[March 24, 2020]
By Trevor Hunnicutt
(Reuters) - Joe Biden's presidential
campaign installed a television studio in his basement over the weekend
so the Democratic front-runner could demand bolder action from President
Donald Trump on the coronavirus crisis and speak directly to the
But when he delivered the debut speech on Monday morning, major cable
news networks broadcast New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's coronavirus
It was yet another sign of the upheaval the global pandemic has wrought
on a presidential campaign that just a week ago seemed to be moving full
steam toward a Nov. 3 general election matchup between Biden and Trump.
Instead of the former vice president wrapping up the Democratic
nomination, the coronavirus has taken attention away from the 2020 White
House race and threatens to blunt Biden's momentum by postponing state
nominating elections and indefinitely halting in-person campaign events
By contrast, Trump, who initially played down the virus' impact, has
used his daily televised White House briefings on the crisis to project
optimism about getting the pandemic under control and grab media
The turn of events frustrates Democrats who were eager to move past the
nominating contest's intraparty fighting. It is forcing the Biden
campaign to recalibrate quickly to find new ways to connect with voters
and donors and compete for attention as Trump leads the national
response to the crisis.
"You're not going to have high-dollar donor parties," said Ed Rendell,
the former Pennsylvania governor and Democratic National Committee
chairman, who supports Biden. "That's going to hurt."
Before the spreading respiratory virus upended American life by shutting
down a large swath of the economy and curtailing social activity,
Biden's crowds were growing larger. Donors once cool to his candidacy
rushed to make contributions.
He had hired a new campaign manager and was thinking about running
mates. With decisive wins in a series of state Democratic nominating
contests through last Tuesday, he expanded his lead over his lone
remaining competitor, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
Although he was holding calls with reporters, donors and advisers from
his Delaware home, Biden's lack of a public event for several days meant
he all but disappeared from television. Internet memes questioned his
After seeking advice from donors on how to improve Biden's digital
presence in light of the coronavirus, the campaign is responding to
their feedback by boosting Biden's appearances from his in-house studio.
Biden's name recognition from decades in public life will help him stay
relevant in the absence of regular TV coverage, Rendell said.
NEW METHODS, MIXED RESULTS
Several of the Biden campaign's videos in recent days, including
Monday's speech, were widely viewed online. Still, there were growing
pains. On Monday, Biden looked off to the side of the camera for a cue
to start speaking and then gestured with his hand during the speech in
apparent guidance to a teleprompter operator.
[to top of second column]
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe
Biden speaks during the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the
2020 U.S. presidential campaign, held in CNN's Washington studios
without an audience because of the global coronavirus pandemic, in
Washington, U.S., March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Biden's campaign also is reaching out to consultants and other
fundraising experts to seek ideas on how to raise money while people
are stuck in their homes, according to a person familiar with the
One idea being considered is "relational organizing," a technique
that Biden's onetime rival Pete Buttigieg relied on with some
success during normal times, the person said. The plan relies on
supporters to host virtual fundraisers, hoping to collect
small-dollar donations from friends, neighbors and other people in
"We're trying to figure out strategies and how you keep people
engaged in the process without offending them," said one Biden
fundraiser not authorized to speak for the campaign. "A lot of
people are in shock."
Biden's campaign is also in talks with third parties about how it
can expand its digital operations, according to another person
familiar with the matter.
"You're going to be seeing a lot more of me on television and on -
excuse me, teleconferencing - as well as online," Biden told donors
during a call on Sunday.
Democratic supporters have stepped up their donations to Biden in
recent weeks as it appeared increasingly likely he would be the
party's nominee. Biden has phoned or teleconferenced into three
events with donors since Friday.
Biden supporter and former Paramount Pictures boss Sherry Lansing
said all kinds of fundraising were going to become more difficult as
people focus their charitable donations on coronavirus causes and as
the faltering economy cuts into incomes.
Lansing said something would be lost by not having in-person events,
such as the fundraiser she hosted at her Bel Air, California, home
earlier this month, where dozens lined up to take pictures with
"When he shook their hands, he had something personal to say to them
whether he knew them or not," she said. "There's nothing that can
replace face-to-face human contact."
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Additional reporting by
Jarrett Renshaw in Pennsylvania and Elizabeth Culliford in
California; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)
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