Joe Biden is picking up the pace of his campaign travel as the presidential race enters its final week, announcing plans to hit traditional battlegrounds as well as some states that seemed out of reach until recently.
The Democratic presidential nominee will visit Iowa and Wisconsin on Friday, adding to a travel schedule that includes a visit to newly competitive Georgia on Tuesday and a trip to Florida on Thursday. But the pace of his travel still pales in comparison to President Donald Trump, who’s been blitzing the battleground states with as many as three rallies a day.
Since Thursday’s debate, Biden had no campaign events on Friday or Sunday. He also had no public schedule during the first three days of last week as he prepared for Thursday’s debate. Biden has only visited one battleground state, Pennsylvania, in the last week, with trips on Saturday and Monday, when he made a quick stop outside the city hall of Chester, where his campaign had set up tents to distribute information to voters.
Both candidates seem to be repeating the 2016 playbook — Trump with his multiple rallies a day in small cities in key states, and Biden keeping a low public profile. Hillary Clinton, who like Biden was leading in battleground-state and national polls, began and ended nearly every day at her Westchester County, New York, home and set a pace that was far less intense than past major-party nominees.
After the election, Democrats griped that Clinton didn’t visit Wisconsin — which she narrowly lost — and that she could have campaigned more in rural areas of Pennsylvania and Michigan instead of spending so much of August fundraising and off the campaign trail.
Biden’s allies say the difference this time is that the coronavirus pandemic, and his campaign style — aided by near saturation with on-air and online campaign ads — make him look smarter than Trump, whose rallies are feared to be spreading the virus. It also bolsters Biden’s argument that he is taking the pandemic seriously while Trump, who was hospitalized earlier this month for Covid-19, has consistently downplayed it amid more than 225,000 deaths in the U.S.
Trump has been using his rallies to mock Biden’s cautious approach as a cover for a lack of enthusiastic supporters.
“So he traveled from Delaware to a little tiny corner of Pennsylvania, like right next to Delaware and he made a speech and he said that he doesn’t do these kind of rallies because of COVID,” Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania on Monday. “No, he doesn’t do them because nobody shows up, that’s why. Nobody shows up.”
Since the nominating convention in August, Biden has campaigned 10 times in Pennsylvania, three times in Michigan and in Florida and twice in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio. He’s also made visits to Arizona, Nevada and Minnesota.
“There’s not been a day that hasn’t been a 12-hour day yet,” Biden told reporters in Chester on Monday, detailing online events like fundraisers and meeting with Democratic Party leaders.
And Democrats in key states aren’t concerned.
“There have been plenty of grassroots events and they’re spending plenty of money in the state,” said Sam Roecker, a Democratic strategist in Wisconsin. “Especially with COVID cases right now, I don’t get the sense people are expecting in-person events.”
But the virus only tells part of the story. Biden’s limited travel schedule is also a function of his advisers’ caution in the final days of the race, fearful of giving Trump new ammunition for attacks. And, even before the pandemic hit, Biden kept up a lighter schedule than his opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But Democrats are adamant this race is fundamentally different.
“What people failed to do is give him credit for a near flawless campaign that has been fueled by this huge fundraising advantage that he has, which has allowed him to take risks that no Democrat has ever taken,” said former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
He added: “I think the vice president has to obviously avoid mistakes, stay the course, take some chances but concentrate on turnout.”
Biden was criticized for spending the second quarter at home, appearing at virtual events and on TV from a studio built in his basement. Over the summer, he typically made just one in-person appearance a week, in Delaware or nearby Pennsylvania. Democrats fretted that he wasn’t doing enough, but Biden maintained or even expanded his leads in national and swing state polls.
”The big difference between us and the reason why it looks like we’re not traveling, we’re not putting out super spreaders,” Biden said. “We are doing what we’re doing here. Everybody’s wearing a mask and trying as best as we can to be socially distanced.”
Biden has used his fundraising advantage in part to compensate for Trump’s more frequent campaign travel. According to federal election disclosures last week, Biden’s campaign had $162 million in the bank compared with $43.6 million for Trump. This financial advantage has allowed Biden to communicate his message to voters in the swing states without him being there. Biden’s campaign spent $145 million in the first two weeks of October, more than twice the $63.1 million Trump’s campaign spent over the same period.
And if Biden isn’t on the trail, his surrogates are — including his wife, Jill; running mate Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff; and former President Barack Obama, who has had get-out-the-vote events in Pennsylvania and Florida.
Biden’s visit to Pennsylvania on Saturday was his first to a battleground in nearly a week, after a trip to North Carolina on Oct. 18. He spent the first half of last week at home in Delaware preparing for Thursday’s final debate but the day after the debate — which most analysts believe he won — he returned to Delaware and gave a speech.
Trump, 74, has taken note of Biden’s light travel schedule, allowing it to play into his theme that Biden, at 78, is too old for the rigors of campaigning and the presidency.
On Tuesday, Biden will travel to Georgia, where he will give a speech in Warm Springs, site of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s private retreat, followed by a voter mobilization event in Atlanta.
The polls show Trump and Biden tied in the historically Republican state, but it’s not part of Biden’s path to 270 electoral votes. That also evokes 2016, when Clinton went to Arizona to expand her base of support, but it ended up backfiring when she lost Wisconsin, which has more Electoral College votes.
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