The White House, Washington DC on a sunny day

Campaigning in a crisis – the race for the US Presidency

How do you campaign when you can’t campaign?

In the UK the scheduled May elections were delayed for a year but in the US there is the Presidential and other elections in November and, more trickily a series of primary contests to select candidates.

Primaries (and caucuses) select delegates according to candidate.  The delegates then go to Conventions which nominate the chosen candidate. 

Normally this time of year would feel like a parade of never-ending contests. Instead the coronavirus crisis has meant many primaries are postponed, and some have now become all postal vote affairs.  And even though there is no real challenge to Donald Trump on the Republican side, and the main challenger to Joe Biden (Bernie Sanders) has suspended his campaign on the Democrat side, the primary votes  will  happen.

The shutdown and postponed votes however means more to the Democrats than Republicans.  Normally this succession of contests would be a massive profile raising opportunity for a challenger.  Instead Joe Biden finds it an increasing struggle to stay politically relevant.  While State Governors and Federal legislators have an obvious platform, he doesn’t.

Biden can of course organise on line Town Hall meetings and he can broadcast statements. But the logistical challenge is more easily solvable than that of message and profile.  In news terms the only game in town is coronavirus and the response of Donald Trump.   Biden is campaigning heavily on this, tweeting to attack previous lack of preparation, for example this one from April 4  “In January, while Donald Trump was downplaying COVID-19, I wrote an op-ed calling for immediate action to combat the growing threat. In it, I also said Trump was the worst possible leader to deal with a public health crisis. I stand by that statement.”.  The Democratic  presumptive nominee  is taking care however to accompany his attacks with proactive suggestions such as the Biden Plan

There is one primary date that didn’t change – Wisconsin.  Most primaries are run by the State so the State legislature makes the decision.  And in this case Wisconsin kept its date (7 April) with a small window of opportunity for postal ballots to arrive back seven days later. 

The Democratic Party Convention, at which the Presidential and Vice – Presidential candidates are nominated, has been shifted back to mid- August but even with the new date it is not at all clear how much of the normal Convention can take place.

And of course in the Democratic Party the focus now moves even more closely to the Biden Vice-Presidential pick.

Edge Hill University’s politics courses include a specialist module on US Politics.

Published by

Paula Keaveney

Paula Keaveney

Paula Keaveney is a Senior Lecturer in  Politics.

A former journalist and PR professional, her research interests include political communications, public affairs and PR and marketing in the charity sector. She is the Chair  of the  Political Marketing Group of the Political Studies Association. She is also a former leader of the opposition on Liverpool City Council.

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