Democrats worry Biden playing it too safe

Democrats are growing worried about Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE’s play-it-safe strategy with 50 days to go before the election.

They are specifically worried that as President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE’s campaign reaches millions of voters through in-person door-knocking events and big rallies held in defiance of coronavirus restrictions, the Biden campaign is relying on digital organizing and phone outreach. 

On a field training call over the weekend, several veterans of the Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE presidential campaigns expressed concerns to Caroline Grey, a Biden campaign aide who co-founded the Democratic digital firm Civis Analytics. 


Ex-Obama aides also grumbled privately following the Saturday Zoom call, which had been aimed specifically at getting Obama alumni more active in the final stretch of Biden’s campaign. 

After the call, one former Obama aide said that if Biden loses a close election, analysts will look back on the field operations in the same way they look back on Hillary Clinton’s decision to not visit Wisconsin in 2016.

“If Biden loses, this will be his not-going-to-Wisconsin,” the ex-official said. 

Biden has wrapped his campaign around a follow-the-science approach to the coronavirus, ripping Trump for his handling of the pandemic. His campaign pivoted away from in-person contacts once the pandemic struck, while encouraging voters to mail in ballots.

Those wanting Biden to do more traditional campaign events understand the argument, they just worry it will backfire.

“From a health perspective, refraining from in-person GOTV efforts is the right thing to do," said one of the Democrats on the field organizing call, referring to get out the vote efforts. “But the campaign is making a big bet that phone calls and texts can supplant hitting the pavement. The president is not making that bet.”


"It goes against the grain of everything about a campaign in the final days," another attendee said. 

Some Democrats brush off the criticism, arguing that Trump’s flouting of masks and social distancing will end up hurting his campaign. 

They also say Biden has effectively abandoned an outdated model of door-knocking for more meaningful and efficient forms of outreach.

The Biden campaign has invested $100 million into its ground game, which includes 2,500 staff in battleground states, a 500 percent increase since May 1. They say they’ve had 2.6 million conversations with voters since August alone, and that in the past month they’ve had 183,000 volunteers attend virtual events.

They say the campaign is leveraging next-generation organizing through phone banks and new tools, such as Slack, a VoteJoe app and the website.

“In this day and age, when a person’s bullshit  meter is already very high, having a stranger knock on your door in the middle of a f------ pandemic to try and hold a meaningful conversation is total lunacy,” said Michael Halle, a battlegrounds state organizer for the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns.

Democrats have had high anxiety over the 2020 election throughout the cycle given Clinton’s upset loss to Trump in 2016. 

Clinton, like Biden, was ahead of Trump in polls, and ended up winning the popular vote by more than 3 million. But she lost the Electoral College, along with Florida, North Carolina, and more surprisingly, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 

“Since when has a Democratic strategy of playing it safe every worked out for us?” asked one Democratic fundraiser. “We like to make fun of their boat parades or door knocking in a pandemic, but when voters see all this energy out there for Trump, they feel it gives them permission to join the party.”

Trump is seeking to use Biden’s approach against him, and the president has been hitting the road again and again.

By the end of this week, the president will have visited three states Clinton won in 2016 — New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nevada — as he seeks to expand the map. Biden will have visited the core battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, as well as Minnesota, which he’s expected to win, even as polls show him running close in states Trump is expected to win, such as Iowa, Ohio, Texas and Georgia.

The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee say they have contacted 100 million voters this cycle, triple their 2016 number, with the 100 millionth coming on a door knock in North Carolina.


In rural parts of battleground states, supporters have been organizing “MAGA meetups” and boat parades, while Democrats continue to shun large political gatherings because of the pandemic.

During the week of the GOP convention, the Republicans knocked on more than 2 million doors, bringing their total to more than 12 million door knocks since restarting field operations in mid-June.

Other Democrats dismiss the criticism. 

“This is not a campaign cycle that will be defined by big events or generating extreme energy and enthusiasm on the campaign trail,” said Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist. “It’s about who the country trusts to put the pieces of a broken country back together. We’ve seen in poll after poll that Joe Biden is that person, and that means the campaign has used him in effective ways to show how different he is from the current occupant in the White House.”

 A recent Axios-Ipsos survey found that 59 percent of voters said that door-to-door campaigning is a moderate or large risk, including 58 percent of independents and nearly 70 percent of Democrats.

Several recent media analyses have found Democrats building early vote-by-mail and party registration advantages in the battleground states. 

“The Democrat field programs are beating Republicans in key metrics like registration and vote by mail across the battleground states and we’re reaching out to voters in a way that is safe and effective,” said David Bergstein, the Democratic National Committee’s director of battleground state communications. “I think voters right now appreciate the seriousness in which our party is taking the coronavirus and we’ve shifted our tactics to allow us to continue to reach out to every voter we need to win.”