On Politics: Does Biden Need to Turn the Flash On?

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  • In a call with President Trump yesterday, governors raised concerns about the limited availability of coronavirus test kits. But he wasn’t particularly receptive. When Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana and a Democratic candidate for the Senate, told Trump that his state was on the verge of running out of tests, Trump replied that he had not “heard about testing being a problem.” The New York Times and other news outlets have repeatedly confirmed that many worried Americans who have symptoms of the virus are struggling to get tested. Trump has recently taken to highlighting the fact that the United States has tested more people than any other country — though it does not have nearly the highest testing rate per capita.

  • There’s something of a Democratic beauty contest playing out between Joe Biden and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, in spite of the apparent wishes of the guys involved. And Trump would love to keep it going. In an interview with Fox News, he seemed to be goading Cuomo into an improbable last-minute challenge to Biden for the presidential nomination. “If he’s going to run, that’s fine, I’ve known Andrew for a long time,” Trump said. “I think he’d be a better candidate than Sleepy Joe.” With the presidential race overshadowed by coronavirus coverage, the idea that Cuomo might take on Biden has become the closest that many people’s minds get these days to thinking about the nomination fight.

  • Indeed, in his daily remarks to reporters on Monday, Cuomo seemed to turn his attention from New York to the country at large. “You see this virus move across the state, you see the virus move across this nation,” he said. “There is no American who is immune to this virus. I don’t care if you live in Kansas, I don’t care if you live in Texas.” Biden’s few recent television appearances, meanwhile, have earned mixed reviews. He has often cut himself off or offered confusing statements, as Fox News has zealously reported.

  • In addition to endangering health professionals, the coronavirus and its effects are falling especially hard on the poorest Americans, particularly those in cities. In neighborhoods where many health care and service industry workers live, the obligatory use of public transportation puts a disproportionate number at risk: A Times analysis found that while public transit use has fallen drastically in hard-hit New York City, it has tended to remain at higher levels in some of the least wealthy areas, with heavy concentrations of nonwhite residents.

President Trump inspected a coronavirus testing kit during Monday’s briefing at the White House.

Lots of us have plenty of time to be on the phone these days. Biden — who’s holed up in Delaware — is no exception. And, as Shane Goldmacher reports in a just-published article, Biden “is working the phones with top donors while cloistered” at home.

He’s seeking to make up ground after a grueling primary season in which he failed to match the fund-raising levels of most major rivals. And Trump, who’s waiting for him in the general election, has vastly more cash on hand than Biden.

We spoke to Shane about the difficulties of asking people for contributions during a pandemic, and how Biden’s fund-raising team is trying to meet the moment.

Take us back to early to mid-March: Where was the Biden campaign, just before the coronavirus ground everything to a halt? Unless I’m mistaken, Biden had a lot of momentum but he did not exactly have the most impressive fund-raising operation of 2020. Did he think he was on the cusp of a financial breakthrough before the virus hit?

You’re definitely not mistaken. Biden struggled relative to his top rivals to raise money in 2019 and early 2020. “I had virtually no money,” he joked at the last debate. But his financial fortunes turned around drastically after he won South Carolina. He raised $5 million in a day. And then after Super Tuesday, the pace accelerated to the point where he raised $33 million in the first half of March, more than he had raised in any previous full month.

What does the average day look like right now for Biden? You mention in your article that he’s doing a lot of fund-raising calls, and we haven’t been seeing him on TV nearly as much as Trump or even, say, Cuomo. Would you say calls to donors are his highest priority now?

The Biden campaign has been mum on his fund-raising since March 15, but donations to all Democrats on ActBlue have really slowed in the past two weeks, as I report in today’s article. And while Biden has not been on TV as much as Trump, his campaign did recently install a studio in his home and he has regularly made news media appearances: an MSNBC hit on Monday, “Meet the Press” on Sunday, a CNN virtual town hall last week. He has been calling donors, too. I wouldn’t say that’s his highest priority, but his status as the prohibitive favorite to be the Democratic nominee means all the donors to his old rivals are now available to him.

It’s got to be a tough time to call someone — even a wealthy person — and ask for money. Are people still making these calls?

Some are. Some aren’t. I spoke with multiple fund-raisers who said they had other priorities now, whether philanthropic or personal or their own businesses. But others said that what they saw as Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak had made the need to remove him even clearer, and that money was still flowing in.

You point out in the article that Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee are sitting on about 10 times as much cash as Biden and the Democrats. How did the G.O.P. gain such a big advantage this year? And a follow-up: Do Trump’s fund-raising tactics seem better positioned than Biden’s to bear results in a quarantine?

The short answer is time. Trump started stashing away money for his re-election in 2017, and he and the party have taken advantage of rules that let him raise funds in far bigger chunks with shared committees with the Republican National Committee. Biden, who’s not yet the Democratic nominee, does not have such a joint committee. It’s hard to say who is better positioned going forward — there has never been a simultaneous pandemic and an economic downturn in modern times — but Trump no doubt begins with a huge financial head start.

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