Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

The State: of the Presidential Campaign in March and the Coronavirus Effect

News / The State March 20, 2020

Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects of the 2020 campaign season, including the race for the White House and key elections around the country.

The past few weeks have been unique to say the least. 

On the campaign front, it may be time to start referring to Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. After a series of blowout wins beginning on Super Tuesday, March 3, followed by victories in key states on March 10, and then sweeping Florida, Illinois and Arizona on March 17, the former vice president has a lead in the delegate count that will be all but impossible to overcome.

As remarkable as Biden’s rise to the top of the Democratic nomination has been, it is overshadowed by the outbreak of the coronavirus – the effects of which we are just beginning to see on modern campaigning.

Let’s recap before we head into the next phase of the presidential contest.

There is no comparison in presidential nomination contests to how quickly Joe Biden’s campaign went from nearly out of gas to speeding on rocket fuel. Most of his former rivals for the nomination have now endorsed him, leaving Bernie Sanders as his only viable opponent. But after consecutive, resounding wins by Biden, the delegate math leaves Sanders with no path to the nomination without suddenly winning large states and winning them big. The evidence that Sanders can do so just does not exist.

When the Vermont senator exits the race remains to be seen. But that hasn’t stopped Biden from shifting his attention to the general election against President Trump. In the last debate, a showdown between Biden and Sanders, the former vice president turned heads when he unequivocally stated that he would pick a woman to be his running mate. For context, no major party vice presidential nominee in the last 40 years has ever been announced before July. Biden stating his intent to pick a woman signals his plans to make his decision early and hit the campaign trail soon after.

The big rallies and retail politics that normally occur have come to a screeching halt, and there is no certainty when such events will return.

The full impact of the coronavirus outbreak on modern campaigning remains to be seen, but some of the effects are obvious. For one, the big rallies and retail politics that normally occur have come to a screeching halt, and there is no certainty when such events will return.

To return to a time big event politicking didn’t take place would take us back 100 years to the 1920 election when Ohio Senator Warren Harding ran a “front porch” campaign, during which he would sit on his porch and give speeches to those who gathered. Meanwhile, his surrogates did the politicking.

Coronavirus has compelled both the Trump and Biden teams to deploy digital front porch campaigns. Both are focusing on digital and television advertising, while many of their supporters go live on cable news to trumpet their candidate. President Trump, though consumed by the federal government’s coronavirus response, continues to use Twitter to push out his campaign message. Joe Biden, meanwhile, is hosting digital town halls and making televised addresses from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Only time and the results of the pandemic mitigation efforts will tell how long the digital front porch remains the central venue for campaigning. But as the campaign season heads into April, America has sailed into waters not visited since the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. How the election is altered because of coronavirus is still unfolding, but through March, there has been little interest and enthusiasm lost on both sides of the race. November still promises to be a high-turnout election, even if people engage from a safe social distance.

Mike Sistak is director of grassroots program development at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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