2020 Watch: Voters focus on virus, not on Biden running mate
Presidential politics move fast. What we’re watching heading into a new week on the 2020 campaign:
Days to general election: 190
Americans who have long complained that presidential campaigns last too long may be seeing their wish granted. As another week begins in a nation restricted by measures to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, President Donald Trump is itching to amass his vocal Republican following and Democrat Joe Biden continues to campaign from his Delaware home.
It was to have been a triumphant week for Biden. Pennsylvania, where he was born, and Delaware, the state he represented for decades in the Senate, were to have held primaries. Victories there would have punctuated the presumptive nominee’s dramatic comeback.
Instead, the postponement of five Tuesday primaries and, even more noteworthy, the early stages of evaluating potential Biden running mates, have slipped among Americans’ reshuffled priorities, now topped by watchful concern over the reopening of businesses and public facilities in some states.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
How will Trump respond to states gradually lifting restrictions on businesses and public facilities?
Governors around the country, many locked in partisan tension between public health and kick-starting their stalled economies, will be watching states like Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas. Their Republican governors have ordered some businesses to reopen.
While Trump has publicly criticized Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s aggressive plan to reopen as premature, some administration officials have said the president approved it, as he also urged protesters in political swing states with Democratic governors to “LIBERATE” themselves from widespread public closures.
Who knows what impact Trump’s pronouncements may have, given that fewer than a quarter of Americans say they have high levels of trust in what he is telling the public, based on a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Are Trump’s renewed attacks on Biden resonating during the pandemic?
While Trump’s reelection hopes no doubt hinge to a large degree on his handling of the outbreak, his team and other allies have been savaging Biden as a corrupt Washington figure.
Some Trump allies see now as the time to undercut Biden’s standing, as the Democrat’s public campaigning is sidelined by bans in most critical states on large gatherings.
To that end, groups supporting Trump have aired ads casting the veteran senator-turned-vice president as too cozy with an unpopular Chinese government.
However, facing declines in support in key battleground states such as Michigan, where the pandemic is fierce, even Trump allies such as former senior adviser Steve Bannon say every day is a referendum on the president, not Biden.
As Democratic pollster Paul Maslin, based in swing state Wisconsin, put it, “Joe Biden is a bit player until he gets nominated and until we get past the worst of this.”
Who is leaving an impression in Biden’s undeclared running mate audition?
There are a lot of ways to informally campaign to be selected as a running mate, and one of the most effective is to not be seen as campaigning at all.
The women who are being considered by Biden — he pointedly noted that his running mate would be female — have tried a variety of methods, from openly saying they want to job to more dutifully talking up Biden’s strengths and their own credentials.
Former Georgia House Speaker Stacey Abrams has been the most overt.
The 2018 Democratic nominee for governor has said she would “make an excellent” running mate and noted her yearslong independent effort to become more familiar with international affairs.
Nearly as conspicuous in her interest is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told MSNBC this month she would accept the spot on the ticket should Biden offer it.
Such public overtures are departures from the typically secretive process. Biden has suggested he’ll have the list trimmed to finalists by July.
Though Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she “would do just about anything for Joe Biden,” she is also grappling with the upper Midwest’s most vicious pocket of the outbreak. “The job that I want is the one that I have,” Whitmer said last week.
Likewise, California Sen. Kamala Harris said this month she “would be honored,” but the one-time presidential candidate quickly added that her attention was focused on the pandemic.
Another former Biden rival, Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator, has been even more coy, telling CNN this month, “ “I’m just not going to engage in hypotheticals.”
THE FINAL THOUGHT
Though Biden would seem to be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to getting voters’ attention, that does not appear to have hurt him. Trump’s relentless presence during daily briefings — White House officials are now saying he will cut back on them — has not proven to be a great advantage.
It may have even hurt him, as only about one-quarter of those Americans surveyed by the AP said they trust the information that he is giving them.
Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”