The two leading Democratic contenders for the presidency are both essentially moving their campaigns online for the foreseeable future, telling staffers to work from home and deciding not to hold in-person events as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to climb rapidly.
The campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders made their announcements within hours of each other on Thursday afternoon. The two men are the only major Democratic candidates left in the race to challenge President Donald Trump, with Biden leading Sanders in both public polling and the delegate count.
The moves come ahead of the next major wave of primaries ― in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio ― on Tuesday.
“In light of concerns about coronavirus and out of an abundance of caution for our staff, volunteers and supporters, the Sanders campaign has asked all staff to work from home and will no longer hold large events or door-to-door canvasses, instead moving to digital formats and outreach wherever possible,” Sanders spokesperson Mike Casca said in a statement.
The Biden campaign announced that its Philadelphia headquarters and field offices around the country would be closed for at least the next two weeks. The campaign will instead organize voters through “phone banking, text messaging, virtual events, and other distributed organizing models.”
Biden’s campaign is also turning all of its upcoming fundraisers into “virtual fundraisers” and promising to keep them accessible to the press. It’s still leaving open the possibility of holding small in-person events.
“At this time, guidance remains that small gatherings are safe to continue if those with known exposure to COVID-19 do not participate. We will continue to hold smaller events like roundtables, house parties, and press statements,” two top Biden campaign officials, Anita Dunn and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, wrote in a memo to staffers obtained by HuffPost.
The Biden and Sanders campaign moves occurred on the same day as widespread announcements of closures and cancellations as Americans seek to limit the spread of the coronavirus and the accompanying strain on the country’s health care system.
There could be some significant political impact for the candidates: Biden is raising much larger sums now than he’d previously raised, and the lack of opportunity for a face-to-face with the former vice president could damper some donors’ interest. And what little hope remains for a Sanders comeback would likely involve the campaign’s volunteer army extensively knocking on doors.
The two campaigns had already canceled a number of rallies, following warnings from government and public health officials to limit large gatherings. The Biden campaign plans to hold a virtual town hall for Illinois residents on Friday afternoon. Both candidates delivered speeches on Thursday afternoon lambasting the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis and laying out their plans to respond to the pandemic.
“The functions of this campaign ― disseminating the Vice President’s message, educating voters, and earning their votes ― will not change,” Dunn and O’Malley Dillon wrote to Biden staffers. “We will continue to implement our mission: putting together a broad and diverse coalition to make Donald Trump a one-term president and restoring the soul of the nation. Our challenge now is to do that in new and creative ways that mitigate public health risk.”
The Trump campaign has yet to announce similar steps, though it has canceled some events due to coronavirus concerns.
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