No door knocks, little press access, early 'lids': Biden campaign stalls with 40 days left

Campaign calls multiple early-morning "lids," raising specter of exhausted candidate.

Updated: September 25, 2020 - 5:28pm

The momentum of the Joe Biden campaign is showing signs of stalling less than a month and a half before the Nov. 3 election, with the Democratic nominee at the center of a political effort that is forgoing knocking on doors, skipping entire days' worth of campaigning, and at times appearing to avoid engagements with the press in contrast to his more gregarious Republican opponent. 

Biden's campaign has notably eschewed door-to-door knocking over the course of the waning election season. That decision has panicked some Democratic operatives, but Biden campaign officials have argued it's necessary in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, claims to have knocked on over 30,000,000 doors and placed 120,000,000 phone calls.

Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley said earlier this month that door-to-door knocks alone "don't have any impact on reaching voters." The Democratic campaign, she said, has been relying on "conversations" with voters in order to get out the vote, something the campaign is doing almost exclusively through virtual means such as phone calls and text messages. 

"What we're finding is that we are able to actually connect and reach more people than we had been in previous cycles through the phone," campaign Deputy States Director Molly Ritner told NPR. 

That confidence has not trickled down to every 2020 Democratic campaign. Numerous Democrats in federal and state races have taken to knocking on doors, a perennial election tradition that many see as a time-tested campaign tactic that politicians discard at their own peril. 

Dave Carney, a veteran Republican campaign operative who runs the New Hampshire public relations firm Norway Hill Associates, accused the Biden camp of "Pollyannaish hubris" for its virtual approach to voter engagementt. 

"We know empirically that personal voter contact is the most effective mode to persuade and turn out voters," he told Just the News. He noted that the Biden camp may miss crucial engagements with swing voters by foregoing door-knocking. "Time will tell if it hurts them or not," he said.

A successful presidential campaign that utilizes virtual vote-gathering to gain a critical edge among voters would be a revelation in American politics, which has long prized the more intimate, folksy appeal of face-to-face campaign engagement. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, expressed confidence that its face-to-face tactic will pay off this year. 

"President Trump and his campaign have always placed incredible value in connecting directly with voters, and right now we're the only campaign asking people for their vote in person," campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager told Just the News. 

"Joe Biden believes he can win a race from his basement by buying television ads without making his case directly to the American people — but while he's taking voters for granted, we're firing on all cylinders with ads, targeted visits to key states, and our massive ground game operation," she continued. 

Early campaign 'lids' fuel concerns about Biden's stamina

The Biden campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding its major disparity in face-to-face voter contact relative to the Trump campaign. 

Nor did Biden's camp respond to inquiries regarding several recent early-morning "lids" the campaign has called, in which staffers have informed press that Biden will not be conducting any campaign activities on the day in question. On Tuesday and Thursday of this week alone, the campaign has called a lid before noon. On Sept. 19, Biden called a lid before 9:00 a.m. 

Those decisions have raised no small amount of speculation online, largely among conservative commentators who have alleged that the early lids indicate that Biden, who is nearly 80 years old, has become exhausted by the relentless demands of a contentious presidential campaign. 

Others have defended the lax schedule. "People. Biden is doing debate prep," Daily Beast Politics Editor Sam Stein wrote on Twitter on Thursday. "That's why he's calling lids. It's not that complicated." 

Biden did say on Wednesday that he would be prepping for the upcoming debates on Thursday, presaging his campaign's early lid on that day. Yet he indicated that he had not engaged in much prep up to that point, telling reporters, "I started to prepare, but I haven't gotten into it really heavily." 

On Thursday, President Trump himself slammed Biden for the short campaign days, writing on Twitter that Biden was a "LOW ENERGY INDIVIDUAL." 

"[O]ur Country cannot make it in these exciting, but complex and competitive times, with a Low Energy President !!!" he declared.

Press avoidance has 'foul stench of insecurity'

Both Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, have also faced criticism for their relative reluctance to appear before the press and take questions. 

Harris's own lack of appearances before news media have drawn criticism not just from conservative circles but from mainstream journalists. Both CBS correspondent Ed O'Keefe and NBC campaign reporter Deepa Shivaram have publicly lambasted Harris's habitual press avoidance, with O'Keefe noting that Harris's "reluctance to answer questions on a regular basis" contrasts with her willingness, earlier in her career, to engage with reporters. 

Although on Thursday Sam Stein defended Biden's early campaign lids, on Wednesday he also slammed the Biden camp's aloofness from the media. "The Biden campaign's reluctance to talk to the press is not just annoying (though it's that), it's bad for our system of governance (especially during COVID) and has a foul stench of insecurity," he wrote. 

Biden, meanwhile, has come under fire over allegations that he utilizes teleprompters during news interviews, with the candidate at times appearing to read off of television screens when answering one-on-one questions from journalists.

At one campaign event earlier this month, an attendee appeared to suggest that she had been given a prearranged question to ask the presidential candidate, though it was ultimately unclear if the question had simply been cleared by staffers beforehand or if Biden himself had vetted the question prior to the event. 

When Biden has appeared in the spotlight, meanwhile, he has at times appeared to stumble in communicating basic ideas, such as when he apparently garbled a line in his nomination acceptance speech and declared of America: "There's never been anything we've been able to accomplish when we've done it together."

In other cases, his intended meanings have been hard to decipher. At a campaign event earlier this month, he told attendees: "COVID has taken this year, just since the outbreak, has taken more than 100 year … look, here's, the lives … it's just, it's, I mean think about it."

"More lives this year than any other year for the past hundred years," he added.

Though the Biden campaign has appeared to be at a positional disadvantage heading into the critical October stretch of the election season, Biden has nevertheless maintained a steady lead on Trump in numerous national surveys. Just the News polls have shown Biden holding a steady 4-6 point lead over Trump since the beginning of September. 

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