MIAMI -- With uncertainly still hanging over the Democratic primary, the Joe Biden campaign is already starting to think about November, confident that the battle with Bernie Sanders is all but over and that their candidate is uniquely cut out for the road ahead.
But, that’s about all anyone is certain of.
“I think we’re quickly moving into a general election campaign strategy,” said Felice Gorordo, a Cuban American from Miami who worked in the White House under President Barack Obama. “We have done a great job in drawing the contrast between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and now we have to do the same with Trump,” added Gorordo, who is a volunteer member of Biden’s National Finance Committee.
But, like others, he was quick to concede the next six months of the election campaign were shrouded in uncertainty due to the coronavirus outbreak. “We are in unchartered waters,” he said.
Democrats like to describe President Donald Trump as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation. But the coronavirus has doubled that equation, by adding a new existential threat to the global economy and the health of the entire planet.
Miami pollster, Fernand Amandi, who works with Democrats, told Univision that the covid-19 crisis has created a degree of political uncertainty that defies comprehension.
“To be honest, I have no idea,” he told Univision when asked for his outlook. “We are staring at an event so unprecedented in the modern era that it makes every type of punditry and prognosticating redundant, and frankly almost irrelevant,” he said.
“There is no old playbook and no new playbook, there’s no playbook for this. This is the politics of improvisation,” he added.
The only thing that is certain is Sanders campaign being over, say Amandi and other.
Sanders would need 63% the remaining delegates to claim a majority, which is roughly equivalent to winning the remaining contests by about 25 points, according to Nate Silver, founder of the statistical analysis company, FiveThirtyEight.
It’s also twice what Sanders has polled in recent contests.
“This primary is nowhere near as close as the 2008 and 2016 Democratic primaries,” the Biden campaign noted in a statement which highlighted that neither Clinton in 2016, or Obama in 2008, held such a similar-sized lead until much later in the campaign.
“In a sane and reasonable world this election would be over already,” said Amandi. “But it hasn’t been a sane and reasonable world for a long time. Coronavirus is just sprinkling another dash of insanity on what was already a toxic political brew in the United States,” he added.
All the campaigns, Democrat and Republican, have suspended planned rallies and in-person fund-raisers, forcing them to become more virtual and digital. Expect campaigns to reach out via printed literature to your mail, as well as TV ads and phone calls from campaign phone banks.
Democrats point out that Biden has a rare advantage over past candidates in that he is such a household name after a long career in the U.S. Senate and serving vice president for eight years to Barack Obama.
Biden astonished pundits this month by beating Sanders handily in states where he was being outspent by a wide margin by the other Democrats, even in places where his campaign had no physical office, or money to run ads.
On the one hand, Democrats are not unhappy to see Trump forced to cancel rallies which have become his favorite campaign tool. On the other hand, the coronavirus has given the president more daily exposure via White House press conferences – once a rarity - to update the nation on the crisis.
Last Wednesday, Trump declared himself a wartime leader, appealing to Americans to rally around his leadership. “We will prevail together,” he said. Trump also has an ally in the state’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, who enjoys a high ratings approval.
“In six months, the coronavirus could be a just blip and Trump will be claiming a historic victory. Who knows?” said Amandi.
But, coronavirus more likely improves their chances against Trump in Florida, a key swing state that voted for real estate tycoon in 2016, Biden supporters say.
"Tried and tested"
They plan on contrasting the former vice president’s experience dealing with the ‘great recession’ in 2008, with Trump’s controversial leadership in the coronavirus crisis.
“Biden has been there before. He is tried and tested and able to reassure and instill a sense of comfort in people in a time of crisis,” added Gorordo, noting that Trump’s controversial late action and mixed messages by his administration during the current crisis had failed to calm the stock market.
That contrast “is something the campaign will make crystal clear to voters,” said Gorordo, who noted an eerie déjà vu similarity to the 2008 crisis. “Here we are, 12 years later. It’s ironic,” he said.
Some Democrats wonder how Biden would fare in a televised debate with Trump, who enjoys performing in front of the camera. Biden famously stumbles over words – he has struggled with a stuttering since childhood - and struggled in the primary debates until last Sunday when he held his ground with Sanders.
“The 60 seconds gotcha moments don’t do anyone a favor,” said Gorordo. While his best format is a Town Hall, Democrats also like to point to Biden’s successful 2012 debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who went on to be Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Then there is also the no small question of winning over Sanders supporters to unify the party behind Biden. In 2016 the party was split badly when some Sanders supporters refused to back Hillary Clinton, with some voting for a third green candidate, Jill Stein, while others crossed over party lines to vote for Trump.
Biden supporters say things are different this year. “There is more of a rapport between Biden and Bernie. They have a relationship,” said Gorordo. In their public statements Biden and Sanders have been polite about each other and spoken of their friendship in the U.S. Senate. “He (Biden) is already trying to bring the base of support into the fold. That’s going to be our biggest challenge,” recognized Gorordo.
Biden won Florida by 39 points, and beat Sanders in every county. He also performed well among Latino and progressive voters who have been drawn to Sanders in other states, according to exit polling.
But Florida general elections are historically a close-run thing and Biden will need every vote he can get.
Sanders supporters not behind Biden - yet
Many Sanders supporters are not ready to give up the fight, insisting that he represents a social movement for change, not just an election campaign.
“Bernie SHOULD keep going,” said Allan ‘A.J.’ Nichols, a Sanders campaign ‘captain’ in South Florida. His experience and detailed plans to deal with the coronavirus were needed, he said. “There is more reason for him to stay in the race, but OUR survival is reason #1,” he wrote in a text message.
Some analysts say Sanders supporters must now ask themselves a tough question: how far they are prepared to go if that might risk handing Trump another four years in office.
“The Sanders campaign is on a zombie run at this moment,” said Manuel Pastor, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California (USC). “Some young people are quite alienated from politics. They see Sanders as a way out. They will have to make a calculation about whether they can further their movement’s goals by getting Biden elected,” he added.
'Uncle Joe,' the socialist?
Pastor and other believe Biden can afford to move his platform to the left to accommodate Sanders supporters without alienating moderate Democrats. “It’s hard to call Biden a radical leftist. Look at him. Is ‘Uncle Joe’ going to move you to socialism. I don’t think so,” said Pastor.
Others are not so sure, fearing that Trump will seek to use the socialist card as much as possible in the campaign.
“ Whomever the Democrats nominate, the Republicans are going to spend $1 billion branding as a socialist,” said David Jolly, a former Republican member of Congress for St Petersburg on Florida’s west coast, who has since left the party and is a vocal critic of Trump.
“They will try and paint Biden as the head of the party of socialism,” he said, who pointed to Trump’s large support from Cuban American voters in Miami in 2016.
Even so, Trump in in trouble in Florida, according to Jolly, noting that it is historically a swing state, that voted twice for Obama.
“There’s a lot of Republicans looking for a Democrat to vote for,” he said.
In the end, with coronavirus likely to be around for a while, the outcome in November may come down to the health of the country, its people, its economy, and the candidates.
Biden, Sanders and Trump and all in their 70s and at high risk of infection. “He’s in great fighting shape,” said Gorordo who recalled spending a long day with Biden in Washington DC, which began at five in the morning.
“He blows me away with his stamina. He didn’t wrap up till 11pm. Then he jumped on a train to his home in Delaware,” he said.