Instead of a celebratory backdrop that would have served as a momentum builder, only Biden and his wife, Jill, were in the camera shot as he delivered a sober speech. His staff stood at a distance behind a rope.
Bernie Sanders, who like Trump has made rallies a staple of his insurgent campaign, has also ditched large events for now.
The Trump campaign had been eager for months to get the canceled Las Vegas fundraiser with Adelson on the books. The White House also scrapped what was to be First Lady Melania Trump’s first solo fundraiser, which had been scheduled for next week in Los Angeles, now placed under a state of emergency.
Biden has also aborted upcoming fundraisers, including two in Chicago. The campaign said it would be holding its fundraisers online indefinitely.
While the Trump campaign and its allies at the Republican National Committee are giving employees the option of teleworking, the Biden campaign has gone further. On Thursday, the former vice president’s effort distributed an internal memo informing employees at its Philadelphia headquarters that beginning this weekend they are to work from home. Staffers scattered across the country, meanwhile, will have the option of working from their homes or from short-term housing rentals.
The Sanders campaign similarly announced Thursday that all staff are to work from home.
Field organizing, which of course can’t be done entirely from home, has been made vastly more complicated by the outbreak. The RNC had been planning a “National Week of Training” next week — a nationwide effort to recruit and activate supporters and test the party’s get-out-the-vote operation. While some of those gatherings were initially to be in person, they are now slated to be held online and over the phone. The committee is also planning an upcoming online training day for volunteers.
After spending more than a year developing a massive digital infrastructure and database of contact information, the Trump campaign is betting it will be able to reach key voters online. The reelection effort recently set up a new website, ArmyforTrump.com, which is designed to be an online home for volunteers.
“The Trump campaign is built on data and uses technology to its highest advantages, so is better positioned to virtually engage voters than any other campaign,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman.
The Biden campaign has also taken dramatic steps. In its Thursday memo, the campaign announced that it is closing all field offices to the public and would instead be organizing “voters across the country through phone banking, text messaging, virtual events, and other distributed organizing models.”
Despite a series of key primaries taking place next week, the Sanders campaign said it would put a halt to all “door-to-door canvasses, instead moving to digital formats and outreach wherever possible.”
While Trump advisers are worried about how the president’s response to the coronavirus — and accompanying stock market crash — will affect his reelection hopes, they largely remain sanguine. But with schools and offices shutting down and people dying, they also said they recognized the accompanying political danger.
People familiar with Wednesday’s White House meeting said the president seemed to grasp the urgency of the situation.
Biden is using the crisis as an opportunity to cast himself as a steady leader who will return the country to normalcy after a turbulent Trump presidency. During a Thursday speech on the outbreak, Biden charged that “public fears are being compounded by a pervasive lack of trust in this president, fueled by his adversarial relationship with the truth.”
Biden then emphasized the need to embrace science, take the lead from experts, and be frank with the public — implying Trump has done the opposite.
“The No. 1 question right now,” said Ron Klain, a top Biden campaign adviser who coordinated the Obama administration’s response to an Ebola outbreak in late 2014, “is what’s your response to this coronavirus?”