Joe Biden’s campaign at 9:20 a.m. ET on Thursday called a “lid” – a term used to inform reporters that the Democratic presidential nominee wouldn’t be making any public appearances for the rest of the day.
It was no surprise: Biden had told reporters the day before that he was devoting Thursday to preparing for his first debate with President Donald Trump next week.
But it meant Biden would be on the sidelines as the nation erupted in controversy, with a Supreme Court seat on the line, widespread protests over the police involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, not facing charges related to her death, and Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses in November.
And it was a drastic contrast to Trump, who traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday afternoon to deliver a speech focused on health care and then to Jacksonville, Florida, for a rally.
In Jacksonville on Thursday night, Trump mocked Biden for calling an early lid.
“Supposing he never campaigns and he wins, you know how badly I’m going to feel? I’m working hard, and you’ve got to work hard,” Trump said of Biden.
Trump and Republicans have sought to seize on Biden’s relatively sparse schedule, accusing him of hiding in his basement – where his campaign in the pandemic’s early days set up a camera so he could livestream events and sit for interviews. Some swing-state Democratic candidates and officials have privately complained that the lack of Biden events and his campaign’s decision to eschew the usual door-to-door canvassing have put the party at a disadvantage.
But Biden’s aides argue that the former vice president is modeling the behavior public health officials advise in the pandemic – and that voters will credit him for a responsible approach.
A look at seven days of campaign schedules for both Biden and Trump – this Monday through Sunday – underscores their divergent approaches: Biden is methodically targeting swing voters, but is willing to watch news cycles go by as he quietly prepares behind the scenes for big moments like the upcoming debate. Trump’s flood-the-zone approach puts him on the campaign trail almost every day, making him a dominant factor in every news story – but often diluting his message as he ignites new controversies in front of crowds largely ignoring public health guidance amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In that seven-day window, Biden has made two trips outside Delaware – and his campaign hasn’t yet said whether any more are planned. On Monday, he visited Manitowoc, near Green Bay, Wisconsin – a region where Biden’s campaign hopes to win back voters who supported former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but backed Trump in 2016 – to deliver a class-based message targeting Trump’s economic record.
He was at home Tuesday in Wilmington, attending virtual fundraisers. On Wednesday, he visited Charlotte, North Carolina, for an economic summit with Black small business owners, educators and workers – an effort to reach Democratic base voters in a state that has already begun voting.
In both Wisconsin and North Carolina, Biden also gave interviews to three local television news stations, but did not take questions from the national press that travels with his campaign.
On Thursday, he told reporters he was preparing for his upcoming debate with Trump at home in Wilmington, Delaware. And as of Thursday night, the only additional travel his campaign has announced through the weekend is a Friday trip to Washington, DC, to mourn the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Biden’s campaign has long made clear it is willing to withstand the jeers about his public schedule, and doesn’t see the former vice president as needing to respond to every Trump attack or position himself as a major player in every national news story.
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Instead, aides said the campaign has sought opportunities to drive a message that will reach and appeal to swing voters in key regions – such as his economic speech in Wisconsin, and other recent events focused on the auto industry in Michigan; veterans in Tampa; Hispanic voters in Orlando – without diluting or distracting from that message.
Justin Nickels, the Democratic mayor of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, who met Biden when he visited Monday, said he knew Democrats who would like to attend a campaign rally in person – but that they understood the pandemic makes the usual presidential campaign schedule of several large rallies a day through the fall impossible.
“I’ve gone to a Packer game every single year of my entire life, and this year I can’t. I’m disappointed, but at least I know I can watch it on TV. And that’s probably the best analogy for Wisconsin right now,” he said.
Aides argued that modeling the behavior recommended by public health experts during the pandemic – keeping events small and socially distanced – matters to voters.
“Donald Trump’s super-spreader events only serve to confirm to voters that Trump still refuses to take this pandemic seriously, even after it’s taken 200,000 American lives and wrecked our economy,” Biden spokesman Michael Gwin said. “While Trump plays politics with our health, Joe Biden is showing the American people how he would lead as President: listening to the experts, acting responsibly, and doing everything in his power to get this virus under control.”
Trump’s campaign responded by noting that Biden’s campaign travel is a relatively recent development – he was largely off the campaign trail from the pandemic’s beginning in mid-March through the Democratic National Convention at the end of August.
“If meeting with Americans across the country wasn’t important, why have Joe Biden’s handlers suddenly decided the candidate should occasionally leave his basement to see voters?” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella.
Trump, meanwhile, has been much more visible: He visited Ohio on Monday, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, visited Florida and North Carolina on Thursday and is set to visit Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Pennsylvania over the following three days.
Republicans said Trump’s in-person campaign rallies drive spikes in voter registration and in the GOP base’s enthusiasm that could pay off for the President and down-ballot Republican candidates.
“Winning campaigns inspire people,” said Dallas Woodhouse, the former executive director of the North Carolina GOP. “I think you feel that when Trump does these events, and you know, he’s figured out a way to do outside and shorter. … You can just feel some energy coming off of those things.”
He often attacks Biden on the campaign trail. But Trump also often ignites controversies that dominate headlines from those rallies and events: On Monday in Ohio he continued to downplay the impact of coronavirus. In Pennsylvania on Tuesday, he made a racist attack on Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was born in Somalia. On Wednesday, he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses to Biden.
The President appears to be targeting a different group of voters than Biden: his base, which polls show is overwhelmingly White and largely consists of men without college degrees.
His approach to the fall campaign suggests his campaign views its path to victory on November 3 as requiring a stronger turnout from his largely rural, white base to make up for erosion since 2016 among suburban, older and independent voters – and that it believes the way to reach those voters is a show of force, delivering packed, raucous crowds and the backdrop of Air Force One in spite of the pandemic.
The cost of that approach is that much of the local and national news coverage of Trump’s rallies has focused on the reality that his crowds are closely packed together and largely not wearing masks.
After an event in Henderson, Nevada, where Trump’s campaign ignored the state’s social distancing rules banning large indoor gatherings, the Nevada company that hosted the rally faced a $3,000 fine.
Trump’s campaign has largely ignored criticism that his rallies could spread the coronavirus.
“President Trump and I trust the American people. We truly do believe in this freedom-loving nation that the American people know how to look after themselves, look after their families, and look after their neighbors and look out for the future of this country,” Vice President Mike Pence told ABC on Wednesday when asked about the rallies.