Biden campaign to start in-person voter outreach as U.S. election nears

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden makes remarks as he prepares to board an Amtrak train to begin a campaign train tour in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., September 30, 2020. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign said on Thursday it would launch an in-person voter-canvassing operation in several battleground states, shifting tactics in the final weeks of a race upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of Biden’s Democratic allies have expressed concern the campaign has been too cautious about getting boots on the ground for in-person voter mobilization in the states that will decide the Nov. 3 election.

The campaign had put safety first in light of the pandemic, choosing to forgo door-knocking in favor of remote contacts even though President Donald Trump’s campaign has been running an extensive in-person effort.

But in coming days, the Biden team will send several hundred volunteers to Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to focus on contacting voters who may be difficult to reach by phone or computer, with plans to expand the effort to more states ahead of the election.

“We’re now expanding on our strategy in a targeted way that puts the safety of communities first and foremost and helps us mobilize voters who are harder to reach by phone now that we’re in the final stretch,” said Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, who has been dismissive of criticism of the Democratic field organizing.

Democratic allies worried the lack of an in-person ground game could be a critical misstep given the close margins in several battleground states that helped the Republican Trump narrowly defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Trump’s running a full-blown get-out-the-damn-vote operation and the Democrats are doing a virtual get-out-the-vote effort by Zoom. There’s a world of difference,” said Brad Crone, a longtime independent political consultant in North Carolina.

Some Biden supporters in Florida – a huge prize with its 29 electoral votes – also have been uneasy about the campaign’s relatively quiet presence there, particularly with recent polling in the state showing Trump making gains with crucial Latino voting groups. On his first campaign trip of the year to the state last month, Biden barely interacted with voters.

It was not yet clear if Florida and North Carolina would be among the states that see an expanded voter-canvassing operation.

“We need to figure out a way to do it safely, but we need to door-knock,” said Jose Parra, a Florida-based strategist who heads the Hispanic-focused communications group Prospero Latino. “Even if it only manages to move 10,000 votes, that could be the difference in a state as close as Florida.”

RAMPING UP SCHEDULE

The Biden campaign maintained that its remote outreach was engaging voters successfully and had already resumed dropping pamphlets at homes.

Biden has consistently led Trump in national opinion polls, although the race is closer in the battleground states. Other indicators show Biden and Democrats generating momentum as voters begin to cast early and mail-in ballots.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in late September found 82% of registered Democrats and 81% of registered Republicans were “completely certain” they would vote, eliminating a traditional enthusiasm gap in favor of Republicans.

Spurred by opposition to Trump, a record-breaking surge of fundraising by Biden has also buoyed Democratic hopes for November. In August, Biden and the national Democratic Party outraised Trump and the Republicans by $364.5 million to $210 million, translating into a blitz of television advertising.

Biden has begun to crank up his campaign schedule after some Democrats criticized him for not appearing enough in battleground states. The former vice president last week made his first trip of the general election to North Carolina, where polls show a dead heat with Trump, who racked up five visits there in a month’s time between late August and late September.

Biden and his wife, Jill, took a train trip through Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Wednesday after the debate in Cleveland, the kind of multi-stop battleground-state tour that some of his backers had pushed.

Trump’s campaign, which for months has knocked on doors and hosted large rallies, often over the objections of local elected officials and public health experts, said its rival’s efforts were too little, too late.

“You can’t just parachute in a month before the election and hope to make up ground,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.

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