Coronavirus makes the campaign season treacherous for Joe Biden
As the novel coronavirus continues to disrupt society, displace workers, and destroy the economy, Joe Biden has been struggling to adapt to the impact of the pandemic on the Democratic Party contest. Under ordinary circumstances, his commanding delegate lead would cement his position as the presumptive nominee while likely compelling his remaining rival to bow out of the race and support the former vice president.
As the race stands, Biden holds an insurmountable delegate lead over Bernie Sanders as a result of numerous sweeping victories in populous primary states over the last several weeks. Many assumed this electoral upset would force Sanders to withdraw from the race, giving Biden the opportunity to fully pivot to a general election strategy in terms of both messaging and resources, but this has not been the case.
Biden has over 1,200 delegates, and Sanders has over 900 delegates. In a system where delegates are awarded proportionally, and based on some projections for the super delegates that Biden is set to amass, it is highly improbable that Sanders will be able to mount a comeback. Biden, who was trailing Sanders by 10 points just last month, also now has a national lead of 20 points over Sanders with 55 percent of the vote, compared to 35 percent for Sanders, according to Real Clear Politics.
While the path to the nomination for Sanders is implausible at best, it still does not appear that the socialist senator from Vermont is determined to get out of the race anytime soon. His campaign has already indicated that Sanders plans to take part in the primary debate next month, at a time and place to be determined. Further, a campaign source said Sanders will be “making the case for our bold proposals” in the remaining primary states, meaning he could remain in the race until the convention.
Though Biden has all but officially reached the position of the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, he continues to face overlying challenges that will make his path to the White House increasingly difficult. The first issue here is the impact of the pandemic on his strategy. For a politician whose greatest strength is his ability to connect with voters, which is traditionally done by traveling all around the country, speaking to voters at rallies, and of course shaking hands, Biden has been struggling to keep his campaign afloat during such untraditional and unprecedented times.
His only messages to supporters so far have come in low quality videos from his house in Delaware. This is not the image he seeks to challenge Donald Trump, who for better or worse has dominated news coverage of the pandemic response. While Biden holds a critical statistical advantage over Trump at this point, leading Trump by 9 points in the most recent Fox News poll with 49 percent of the vote, compared to 40 percent for Trump, the job approval ratings of the president both generally and regarding his handling of the coronavirus crisis have actually been rising.
The other problem is Sanders. Now that he plans to stay in the race, and both campaigns have effectively stalled because of the coronavirus, the momentum for Biden has come to a near halt. In a campaign that already lacked enthusiasm and the ability to draw in younger voters, Biden now faces the difficult task of seeking to do so from the confines of his house through pixelated online messages. This is hardly a way to win over more progressive voters, especially with Sanders still in the race.
Indeed, the longer Biden is not able to succinctly and effectively turn to a general election strategy in the way that he truly needs, his campaign will not only suffer from a deficit of enthusiasm but also a deficit of important fundraising. The pandemic has put an indefinite hold on his ability to hold events with large donors, and the ensuing economic downturn might also create an atmosphere where donors are hesitant to contribute. This could potentially slow his fundraising to concerningly low levels.
In an ideal world, his campaign would be shoring up its war chest while focusing on a compelling general election message that resonates with voters across the ideological spectrum. But with the political world on pause and a divisive primary still underway, it will become increasingly difficult for Biden to build the broad coalition and political structure he will need in order to defeat Trump in the election this fall.
In the coming weeks, it will be critical for Biden to come out as a forceful voice of reason and competence. Without a more aggressive social media presence, including both online voter outreach and sustained attacks on how Trump is handling the coronavirus crisis, it will be difficult for Biden to capitalize on the momentum he successfully achieved from his recent wins, making his path to the White House far from certain.
Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book is “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.