Joe Biden’s emergence from his house on Memorial Day was a test run for for his return to the traditional campaigning that he thrives on — minus the handshakes, hugs and backslapping — as virus lockdowns ease around the country.
Biden has stayed at home for more than two months, holding campaign events and media appearances from a basement studio, in keeping with health experts’ guidance.
The timing of his basement exit would be propitious for Biden as President Donald Trump’s re-election effort continues to reel from the shaky coronavirus response and a souring economy with more than 40 million people unemployed. As Trump pushes Americans — including Biden — to come out of their homes, Biden’s natural affinity for campaigning could draw a sharp distinction.
On the increasingly politicized issue of wearing protective gear, Biden has made a pointed contrast with Trump, who has flouted local laws and skipped wearing personal protective equipment on his official and campaign stops, which resumed a few weeks ago.
Even Biden’s Twitter photo now shows him wearing a black mask, prompting a New York Post cover that asked, “Who is that masked man?”
But speaking into a camera is not Biden’s preferred campaign style, and his first few attempts were marred by technical glitches and Biden’s obvious discomfort with high-tech devices. He’s an old-style campaigner who feeds off the energy of supporters.
”I’m anxious to go out and campaign,” he said earlier this month. “I enjoy interfacing with people. I’m not trying to avoid it, but I’m trying to set an example as to how we should proceed in terms of dealing with this health and economic crisis.”
The likely Democratic presidential nominee and his wife, Jill, made a first foray on Monday, to a veterans memorial a few miles from his house, with a skeleton staff and fewer than a dozen journalists following him.
Although there’s little evidence his homebound campaigning has hurt him in the polls, Democrats have hoped he could return to the traditional campaign trail, where he would get the same coverage as Trump, who appears on camera almost daily.
“I hope to be able to do more,” Biden told CNN on Tuesday in a face-to-face but distanced interview in his Wilmington yard. That includes the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for Aug. 17 in Milwaukee.
He said that if “I have anything to do with it,” there will be a physical gathering to celebrate his nomination, though he stressed that the decision would be guided by public health experts.
Determined to model good behavior, Biden and his campaign have abided by Delaware’s rules and public health advisories. But those rules are changing. Delaware Governor John Carney plans to ease the state’s stay-at-home order on June 1 and allow out-of-state visitors without a quarantine. And, with prior approval from the state, as many as 250 people can gather outside.
Biden could start off close to home with more local stops in Delaware — perhaps a visit to thank doctors and nurses for their work or to mom-and-pop business that failed to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
With strict restrictions on who boards his chartered plane, Biden could begin flying to battleground states for more visits with essential workers and small businesses. Instead of holding roundtable discussions via Zoom about the epidemic’s impact, he and a handful of others could sit, at a distance, and have those discussions in person.
On Monday, a pool of 11 journalists covered his cemetery visit, wearing masks and mostly keeping at least six feet from the candidate. It wasn’t perfect. When Biden responded to a reporter’s shouted question, he kept his mask on, making the answer nearly incomprehensible.
The number of journalists covering any trip would likely be limited to avoid a scrum of reporters and photographers jockeying to get close.
The campaign is confident the lockdown hasn’t hurt as he leads Trump in most polls.
“I think everyone’s really adjusted to this new normal so I truly believe voters, our volunteers, our activists and supporters, get as much on hearing from the VP and connecting with him in a virtual setting now as they would if he was out in person,” campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon told reporters earlier this month.
Still, Biden has made clear he’d like to return to campaigning the way he has throughout his five decades in politics and allies see upside in getting him back out.
“One of his strongest assets is his empathy and that can’t and doesn’t come through as well as across the Internet as it would in person,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and veteran of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
The Trump campaign is goading Biden to resume events.
“If millions of Americans are going back to work under social distancing guidelines, it’s about time that the presumed Democrat nominee leave his basement,” Trump campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso said in a statement. “In fact, President Trump offered to send Biden and his team rapid response coronavirus tests weeks ago to allow the former vice president the option to leave his home.”
Trump is now regularly leaving the White House. He played golf twice last weekend and made Memorial Day appearances in two states. He’s also been taking weekly trips to battleground states for official events, including the postponed Space X launch in Florida and aFord Motor Co. plant in Michigan that makes ventilators.
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