Trump, Biden tactical battle intensifies

The Trump and Biden campaigns are battling for every advantage over the air waves and on the ground with less than 90 days to go before the presidential election.

The pandemic has forced the campaigns to get creative in finding new ways to reach voters.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE’s campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) are undertaking an aggressive ground strategy by sending mask-wearing field staffers to knock on doors to counter Democrat Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Joe Biden should enact critical government reforms if he wins MORE’s onslaught of over-the-air advertisements.

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Trump’s campaign has been plowing its money into field staff and ramping up in-person voter contacts. Despite the pandemic, field staffers knocked on 1 million doors across 23 states last week.

Biden’s team and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) are taking a radically different approach.

Biden, who will accept his party's nomination from Delaware and not travel to Milwaukee for the nominating convention, has made the careful handling of the coronavirus the centerpiece of his campaign.

The Biden campaign recently announced the largest ad reservation in history, a $280 million television and digital investment that nearly doubles the Trump campaign’s current reservations.

Biden’s staffers are not knocking on doors, believing it's unsafe and a turnoff for voters during the pandemic. Instead, the campaign is focused on ensuring Democrats vote by mail through a fast-growing phone and virtual outreach program they say reached more than 3.5 million people last week.

The different approaches underscore the political divide between the two parties when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Trump has pushed for a return to normalcy, even as some states that reopened their economies have experienced new outbreaks.

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Democrats have taken a more cautious approach, accusing the president of endangering lives and prolonging the pandemic by moving too fast.

“Sending a masked organizer to knock on a stranger’s door in the middle of a raging pandemic is not a safe or effective use of campaign resources,” said David Bergstein, the DNC’s director of battleground state communications.

The Trump campaign and RNC began reopening offices, holding events and training volunteers in-person in June, culminating with a new push to reach voters on their doorsteps throughout July.

They say everything has been done in line with local reopening guidelines and that they’ve strictly enforced capacity limits, mask-wearing and social distancing measures.

The Trump campaign has spent more than $100,000 on personal protective equipment and office cleaning. All staffers received an eight-page document detailing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and other health protocols.

“It’s widely proven that door knocking is the most effective and motivating way to turn out voters,” said Mandi Merritt, the national press secretary for the RNC. “It’s more personal, and while virtual and phone outreach are important avenues too, which is why we continue to do those, nothing can replace the face-to-face connection you can make with someone at the door. We’re doing that and the Biden campaign is not.”

Trump Victory brought on 300 new field staffers last month, giving it 1,500 in total. Another 1,000 will be hired soon to focus on door-knocking and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Staffers are required to read the book “Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 million volunteers transformed campaigning in America” to take lessons from former President Obama's community organizing techniques.

Trump Victory says it will surpass Obama’s 2.2 million volunteers and claims its ground efforts have reduced the Democratic voter registration advantage in key battleground states by hundreds of thousands of voters.

The Trump campaign insists it’s not betting it all on in-person contacts, saying it reached out to more than 3 million people by phone last week.

Trump Victory says it has made more than 70 million voter contacts this cycle, more than double its 2016 effort. The campaign says it will have spent $100 million on its ground game by the end of the cycle.

Trump campaign state directors have been on the ground for more than two years in some states, while the Biden campaign only recently filled key positions in the battlegrounds.

“We have the biggest and best ground game operation ever seen,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “Because of our permanent presence in these states and a data-driven approach to our outreach, we’ve built lasting relationships with voters on the ground that will power President Trump to victory in November.”

The Biden campaign says its quick pivot away from in-person contacts to a phone and virtual campaign, along with its relentless focus on mail voting, will push the former vice president over the top in an election defined by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Democrats have designed a strategy they say helped them win an upset victory at the Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this year, shortly after the pandemic hit and voters turned to mail ballots.

A field organizer will make large numbers of short phone calls to talk about Biden, before passing them off to a customer service-style organizer if they express interest in voting by mail. The second organizer has been trained to help voters navigate their local vote-by-mail protocols, oftentimes sitting on the phone with voters to help them navigate the relevant secretary of state website.

Democrats say this is paying off, helping them to open up a 500,000 vote-by-mail-enrollment advantage in both Florida and North Carolina. Democrats have also requested mail ballots at a far higher rate than Republicans in Pennsylvania.

“Unlike the GOP, the Biden campaign and DNC successfully transitioned our field tactics months ago and that has allowed us to crush Republicans in key metrics, like vote by mail requests across the battlegrounds,” the DNC's Bergstein said.

The Biden campaign is hiring fast and says it will have more than 2,000 field staff by the end of the month, matching the Trump campaign.

They say the response rates to phone calls and open rates for texts have been off the charts, as more people are stuck working at home during the day.

A recent weekend of action in late July produced more than 500,000 phone calls to voters in Michigan and more than 1 million texts sent to voters in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Florida, urging them to vote by mail.

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Democrats say they’re seeing the fruits of that strategy pay off in real time at the primary polls.

Nearly 600,000 Arizona Democrats turned out for the recent primary, beating the previous record set in 2016 by more than 100,000 people.

Democrats also set a primary voting turnout record in Georgia, surging past the 1 million voter mark at the height of the pandemic in an election plagued by confusion and administrative setbacks.

“Vice President Biden is running his campaign the same way he would lead us through this crisis as President — consulting with medical experts, listening to the science, and protecting the health and well-being of the American people — even as our staff and volunteers contact millions of voters in battleground states across the country using both traditional and cutting-edge organizing tactics,” said Michael Gwin, a spokesman for the Biden campaign.