Nom­i­nee-in-wait­ing has a lot more wait­ing to do

De­layed votes mean Bi­den can’t claim Dems’ nod un­til May or June

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - Nation&world -

RICH­MOND TIMES-DIS­PATCH

WASH­ING­TON — In the three weeks since his blowout win in the South Carolina pri­mary, Joe Bi­den has emerged as the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee-in-wait­ing. But, amid the un­cer­tainty of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, put the em­pha­sis on wait­ing.

Bi­den holds an es­sen­tially in­sur­mount­able del­e­gate lead over his last re­main­ing ri­val, Bernie San­ders, yet the Ver­mont sen­a­tor re­mains in the race. And with sev­eral states de­lay­ing their pri­maries to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Bi­den can’t reach the re­quired ma­jor­ity of pledged con­ven­tion del­e­gates un­til May or June.

Yet the for­mer vice pres­i­dent can’t chase those votes in pub­lic be­cause he’s es­sen­tially con­fined to his Delaware home like any other Amer­i­can in a quasi­na­tional quar­an­tine. His new cam­paign man­ager and her staff are work­ing from home, too.

For now, Bi­den’s cam­paign has lit­tle choice but to em­brace an un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal pur­ga­tory.

“Three weeks ago, we were on the verge of col­lapse as a cam­paign, so this is a very re­cent phe­nom­e­non,” said Bi­den se­nior ad­viser Anita Dunn, in­sist­ing that the 77-year-old can­di­date re­mains fo­cused on play­ing a pro­duc­tive role in the coro­n­avirus re­sponse and sewing up a nom­i­nat­ing fight that he doesn’t see as fin­ished.

“We will fig­ure out how to put to­gether a gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign for this dif­fi­cult time,” Dunn said.

Bi­den is con­fi­dent enough in his po­si­tion, cam­paign co-chair­man Cedric Rich­mond said, that he’s started to con­sider pos­si­bil­i­ties for a run­ning mate. But Rich­mond said no vet­ting process has be­gun in earnest.

His for­mer Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial ri­vals have co­a­lesced around him, too. On Wed­nes­day alone, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard dropped out of the race and threw her full sup­port be­hind Bi­den, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand said on Twit­ter that Bi­den had the “right ex­pe­ri­ence, em­pa­thy, and char­ac­ter to lead.”

Bi­den an­nounced Jen O’Mal­ley Dil­lon, a vet­eran Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive, as his new cam­paign man­ager on March

12, two days af­ter another round of pri­mary vic­to­ries widened his lead over San­ders. But in the same gath­er­ing where O’Mal­ley Dil­lon was in­tro­duced, she and Dunn told the staff they were shut­ter­ing the Philadel­phia head­quar­ters and all other Bi­den of­fices. With so­cial dis­tanc­ing al­ready tak­ing hold na­tion­ally, Bi­den and his wife, Jill, ad­dressed the group by tele­phone from their Wilm­ing­ton home.

The cam­paign has promised the ex­pected build-out from a rel­a­tive shoe­string staff — growth hav­ing been ham­pered by Bi­den’s in­con­sis­tent fundrais­ing un­til his re­cent pri­mary vic­to­ries — into a na­tional foot­print be­fit­ting a nom­i­nee. But as O’Mal­ley Dil­lon plots gen­eral elec­tion strat­egy, there’s lit­tle ev­i­dence that mass hir­ing is im­mi­nent.

An­drew Bates, who runs Bi­den’s “rapid re­sponse” com­mu­ni­ca­tions unit, said the cam­paign is re­cruit­ing “ta­lented peo­ple from other pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and from else­where.” Yet some staffers from de­funct cam­paigns told The As­so­ci­ated Press they’ve had only ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions, with no fol­low-up, and oth­ers said they were told the cam­paign isn’t hir­ing for their roles in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture. The peo­ple spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to pro­tect their job prospects.

Dig­i­tal fundrais­ing ef­forts con­tinue, with the cam­paign push­ing the usual texts and emails ask­ing for small-dol­lar con­tri­bu­tions.

But high-dol­lar fundrais­ing

• • •

FRI­DAY, MARCH 20, 2020 events are on hold, in­clud­ing any pos­si­bil­ity of a joint fundrais­ing agree­ment with the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. That deal, typ­i­cally forged be­tween nom­i­nees and the party, would al­low in­di­vid­ual megadonors to con­trib­ute hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars each to the party and cer­tain Bi­den op­er­a­tions, ex­po­nen­tially mul­ti­ply­ing the usual $2,800 lim­its on in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions to the Bi­den cam­paign.

But the hooks of that fundrais­ing ap­proach are swanky in­per­son events that al­low donors close con­tact with a would-be pres­i­dent. No one knows when those can hap­pen again.

Mean­while, Bi­den and his aides must also re­act to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and de­vel­op­ments in the coro­n­avirus out­break and re­sponse.

While chal­lengers to in­cum­bent pres­i­dents al­ways play a re­ac­tionary role, that’s es­pe­cially true for Bi­den, who has built his en­tire cam­paign as a jux­ta­po­si­tion with Trump. But now Trump and his team have an even more dom­i­nant me­dia mega­phone with an end­less loop of White House brief­ings and con­gres­sional machi­na­tions in re­sponse to the cri­sis.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fundrais­ing events for for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den are on hold as a re­sult of the coro­n­avirus. He holds a vir­tu­ally in­sur­mount­able del­e­gate lead over Sen. Bernie San­ders, I-Vt.

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