Campaigning in the Pandemic: Joe Biden's Search for Attention

“It is particularly hard this cycle because Joe Biden can’t go out. Can’t go out and talk to a crowd. Can’t leave his basement rec room.”

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Running against an incumbent President is tough enough as it is. For better or for worse, Donald Trump can garner a national audience whenever he wants. Joe Biden cannot.

Donald Trump is President of the United States during one of the most trying times in U.S. history, and Joe Biden is trying to take that job when most households are more focused on economic survival, physical survival … or both.

“It is hard for any challenger of an incumbent to deal with Rose Garden campaigns,” said Steve Kerrigan, Biden surrogate who ran the Democratic National Convention in 2012. “It is particularly hard this cycle because Joe Biden can’t go out. Can’t go out and talk to a crowd. Can’t leave his basement rec room.”

What can he do?

Biden can certainly get network television interviews. They just don’t garner the same degree of attention, except perhaps, when it relates to Tara Reade, a former Biden aid who has accused him of sexual assault.

But that’s not the kind of national attention the Biden camp wants.

“The vice president has been very clear from the beginning that it did not happen,” said Kerrigan, who is well aware how delicate the situation is with Reade and the potential political impact. “We don’t want independent white women voters who swung to Trump in 2016 to be going to an independent candidate.

“They’re not going to vote in large numbers for Donald Trump this time because they feel like they were frankly duped.”

So, outside of the Reade controversy, how is Biden getting the word out these days?

He’s active on social media, and he has more than five million Twitter followers. Put that in perspective: President Trump has nearly 80-million. Also, Twitter reaches less than a quarter of Americans. Facebook and YouTube reach about triple the audience of Twitter, but Biden’s presence there doesn’t really seem to move the needle. Again, Biden has 50,000 YouTube subscribers, compared to Trump’s nearly 400,000. Plus, the Trump team populates the page much more often.

The Biden team has produced some compelling ads, but again, they do not reach a critical mass.

So, it’s obvious that in the current environment, the opportunities are more limited. Virtual town halls and house parties do work, to some degree, but in a national election, it’s difficult to gauge the impact. 

Kerrigan mentioned a recent Obama-Biden virtual alumni event that raised over seven figures and engaged, according to Kerrigan, about 2,200 people.

But things can – and will – change. Six months ago, the race for the democratic nomination was the top national news story after impeachment. Maybe late in the summer, the pandemic will ease, and the focus will return to Decision 2020, something Joe Biden would welcome.

“You can’t just run a traditional campaign. You can’t just look and see at what we thought six months ago,” said Kerrigan.

No, you cannot. Six month ago, there were 17 democratic candidates in the race, and Biden was in a fight with three others: Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders.

Remember those days?

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