Biden faces new challenge: How to unify the party

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE is facing an uphill battle in unifying the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party as Americans deal with the coronavirus crisis. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE’s (I-Vt.) exit from the race on Wednesday left Biden as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. However, Sanders is not going quietly, pledging to stay on the ballot in the remaining primaries to amass enough delegates to inflict pressure on the Democratic establishment to adopt progressive ideas, like “Medicare for All.” 

Biden, in turn, will have to contend with pushing his own centrist agenda while uniting a fractured party on a virtual basis for the time being.

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The former vice president’s campaign has gone completely digital amid the pandemic, forcing Biden to take part in virtual town halls, press conferences and remote television appearances from his makeshift television studio at his home in Wilmington, Del. 

However, the digital events are a far cry from the rallies and in-person town halls where Biden was able to connect with voters in a more personalized setting.

“There’s no doubt about it that the pandemic and this distancing certainly impacts where he gets a lot of his energy, which is the retail politicking, the connecting with one-on-one voters in rope lines at events and at town halls and such,” said Moe Vela, a Democratic strategist and White House adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations who now sits on the board of directors at TransparentBusiness.

Biden has invited a wide variety of guests to his town halls, but strategists say he will have to widen his net in the digital realm to reach progressives in the party as well. Others say he will have to make himself available to a wide variety of news outlets to reach a broader audience. 

“He needs to have virtual events and bring in as many surrogates from different parts of the party as possible,” said Michael Gordon, a Democratic strategist and principal at Group Gordon. 

On Wednesday, Biden hosted a virtual town hall on unemployment and issues facing working families in the country, topics that rank high in importance for Sanders’s supporters. On Tuesday, Biden gave interviews with Philadelphia television stations WPVI and WCAU, along with an appearance on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.” 

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However, it will likely to continue to be a challenge for Biden to get as much coverage and attention as the coronavirus crisis overtakes the airwaves. President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE and his coronavirus task force have held daily media briefings since last month, and he has seen his approval rating tick up, though he still lags Biden in national polls. 

“The presidential campaign is rightly being dwarfed in the media by the coronavirus story,” Gordon said. “So the president and the White House is getting all of the airtime.” 

Health care could prove to be one of the most challenging platforms for Democrats to unify around. The issue has divided Democrats throughout the course of the primary, with the progressive wing of the party pushing to scrap the health care system in favor of a Medicare for All approach.

Centrists, like Biden, advocated for improving and building upon the Affordable Care Act passed under the Obama administration.

Toward the end of his campaign, Sanders and his supporters argued a Medicare for All approach was needed in order to combat public health issues like pandemics. And with the coronavirus outbreak expected to extend well into the year, it’s likely that progressives will not let up in pushing for Medicare for All. 

Sanders signaled in an address on Wednesday announcing the suspension of his campaign that he would still seek to wield influence within the Democratic Party. He said that he would remain on the ballot in the forthcoming primary contests in a bid to amass as many delegates as possible.

That could give him significant sway over the Democratic platform at the party’s convention in August — and it may put additional pressure on Biden to make some concessions of his own without steering too far to the left.

“What [Biden] needs to do is talk about the elements of Medicare for All that work for him,” Gordon said. “There are elements of the Medicare for All platform that he can adopt without hurting his overall position on health care.” 

“Once the vaccine is available, the vaccine should be made free for everyone in the country. Any testing that is taking place, it needs to be widespread and free for everyone in the country,” Gordon continued. 

Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and former national surrogate for Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, said that part of Biden’s challenge will be exciting Sanders’s supporters enough to actually vote amid the pandemic. 

But he also noted that most of Sanders’s supporters “are going to act like most Democratic Party voters” and back Biden over Trump.

Sanders came under heavy criticism in 2016 for staying in the primary race almost until the convention, which some Democrats say hindered Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE in the general election. 

“There will be a segment of people among Bernie voters who won’t be excited. That’s true in any election,” he said. “But this question of unity comes up every single cycle and ultimately most people do rally around the party.”

Still, Tasini said, that doesn’t mean that Biden won’t have to reach out to the party’s progressive wing. He suggested that the former vice president livestream a “one-on-one conversation on policy” with Sanders or invite him to take part in a joint virtual town hall. 

In some ways, that may prove more effective than traditional campaign tactics, Tasini said, because existing stay-at-home orders and restrictions on large gatherings essentially give Biden a “captive audience you might not usually have.”

“Biden would be very smart to integrate Bernie Sanders into his everyday strategy on campaigning. And especially because a lot of this campaigning isn’t going to be done with big rallies. Even if we relax restrictions, there’s going to be a hesitancy to hold rallies.”

Biden is certainly likely to get a boost in enthusiasm among Democratic voters from former President Obama and former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaThe Hill’s Morning Report – Treasury, Fed urge more spending, lending to ease COVID-19 wreckage Budowsky: Michelle Obama or Tammy Duckworth for VP Michelle Obama urges class of 2020 to couple protesting with mobilizing, voting MORE, who both are two of the most popular figures in the party. 

Recent polling also shows that Obama remains trusted and popular with the public. A Politico-Morning Consult survey showed 52 percent of the survey’s 1,990 respondents said they believed that Obama would be a better leader than Trump during the ongoing pandemic, compared to the 38 percent who said they thought Trump is the better leader.

And despite not yet receiving Obama’s endorsement, Biden has tied himself closely to his former boss, often pointing to the past administration’s work in health care, climate change and foreign relations. 

“[Barack and Michelle Obama] will be an overwhelming unifying factor,” Vella said

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