Thanks to coronavirus, the 2020 presidential election process, both nationally and in Minnesota, is frozen in place. What are Joe Biden’s prospects against President Trump at present? Answering that involves a daunting list of uncertainties.
The main ambiguities: How long will the current virus impasse afflict the campaign? How will that affect the remainder of our presidential selection process?
Two related uncertainties arise from our current deep freeze. Will the parties actually conduct their national conventions as in the past – or virtually? Will voting occur as it has traditionally in the past?
Right now, it’s far from clear how those conventions will transpire. U.S. House Democrats are now proposing new national laws permitting voting by mail in all states this November. Will that come to pass?
Four problems afflict Biden campaign
Four major problems afflict Biden’s campaign in this unprecedented situation.
First, his fundraising has lagged behind Trump’s. When the candidate can’t raise funds in person, the cash flow dwindles. Trump’s campaign and related committees have since 2017 raised a record $677 million with at least $240 million cash for his campaign. Though Biden so far has raised $68 million in February and March, he remains far behind Trump in total funds raised and cash on hand. Can Biden be financially competitive in the fall?
Second, an absent candidate drains a campaign of enthusiasm and momentum. Video addresses from one’s basement don’t rally huge crowds like a nationwide sequence of speeches featuring soaring rhetoric.
Third, the awkward situation puts a spotlight on questions about 77-year-old Biden’s campaign and governing abilities. His recent conduct has received media second guessing and thorough coverage of any perceived gaffes.
Fourth, Tara Read, a former staff assistant in Biden’s Senate office, on April 9 filed a criminal complaint with the District of Columbia police accusing Biden of sexually assaulting her during her time working for him in 1993.
Not all is bleak for Biden, though. He may gain momentum by his choice of a running mate.
Running mate considerations
Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar may well appeal to voters in the vital swing states – in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and perhaps even Pennsylvania. Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer may help the ticket in similar ways. The two are considered strong finalists for his VP nod.
Minnesota ranks as a major battleground state because of Trump’s strong showing in 2016, losing the state to Hillary Clinton by only 1.5 percent despite his devoting few campaign resources to Minnesota.
The Trump campaign has ranked Minnesota as a top target in 2020 and plans to deploy unprecedented GOP campaign resources in the state. Democrats counter with one of the best managed and resourced state parties in the nation, markedly outdistancing the Minnesota GOP in these regards. Add Klobuchar to the ticket and Trump faces an uphill effort in the state.
Some uncertainties could help Biden
It may also be the case that some of the aforementioned uncertainties will help Biden’s campaign. President Trump is under a daily hostile media microscope as he wades through the crisis. Biden’s lengthy Washington experience may seem a safe harbor to many voters by November, given the many problems created by the coronavirus shutdown of the economy and society.
The initial uptick in Trump’s job and crisis management approval seems to be dissipating as the public’s latent partisan polarization begins to resurface. The national polls show a tight race with a narrow Biden lead, despite this curious virus-induced pause in the action. That is the best news Biden has received since the virus shutdown began.
For Joe Biden, the glass is both half full and half empty – for now.
Steven Schier is Congdon Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Carleton College in Northfield.
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