Joe Biden found his footing — then coronavirus changed everything

Evan Halper and Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- It was another tough break for Joe Biden in his struggle for relevance while the nation wrestles with the pandemic: The former vice president was poised to appear before the vast audience of ABC's "The View" Tuesday, but before his interview started, the show vanished from TV screens, as network affiliates cut away to cover New York's governor and Washington, D.C.'s mayor addressing the coronavirus threat.

That encapsulated the brutal challenge Biden's presidential campaign faces, as he struggles to connect with voters preoccupied with more pressing matters than politics.

Even as President Donald Trump fumbles his way through the outbreak, there are risks for Biden if he remains in the background of this ever-changing public crisis. Fresh polling this week shows a diminished lead for Democrats in November, and Trump's approval rating mostly stable despite heavy criticism of his early efforts to downplay the significance of the pandemic.

That leaves Biden in uncharted territory, a candidate awkwardly adjusting to the new reality of virtual campaigning and struggling to find a message that gets him back on voters' radar.

"Everybody is navigating a new world," said Steve Schale, an adviser to Unite the Country, a super PAC supporting Biden. "There is no easy answer to this. There is nothing normal about this moment. Yet the political calendar doesn't take a break."

Another multimillion dollar political committee supporting Biden, Priorities USA, recently launched a $6 million ad campaign aimed at helping Biden elbow his way back into public debate about COVID-19, including one spot that contrasts the chaos of Trump's actions with clips of a resolute and confident Biden vowing to "lead with science."


The marketing blitz, though, is undermined by a Biden campaign that still seems unprepared for this moment. A jury-rigged television studio in the rec room of Biden's Wilmington, Del., house, projects more like a home movie production than a high tech presidential campaign.

He gave his first speech -- about COVID-19, of course -- on Monday, amid confusion about when the remarks would start. Biden got out of synch with the teleprompter and lost his place. He called the governor of Massachusetts "Charlie Parker" (his name is Baker).

That was the bad news. The good news was that viewership was limited. None of the major television stations carried it live. It both relieved and frustrated many backers of the former vice president. The operational glitches of the campaign right now make them cringe.

Still, Biden supporters believe that the public health emergency wracking the nation cries out for a serious, experienced, stable leader -- the qualities that Biden has been selling since the day he launched his campaign.


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