Coronavirus Could Threaten 2020 Presidential Race

The inability to hold rallies could hurt candidates with less money, such as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who rely more on free media. | Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

Fears of coronavirus are prompting soccer teams to play in empty stadiums in Italy. If the virus spreads, it’s not hard to imagine the presidential campaign looking much the same.

Think sickly field organizers, restrictions on staff travel (candidates can charter their own planes), and rallies no one wants to attend. Not to mention the tens of thousand of people set to descend on Milwaukee, Wis. and Charlotte, N.C. this summer for the party conventions.

“There’s been nothing like this,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist based in New York.

If the coronavirus spreads throughout the United States, he said, “We’re going to go through a period, obviously, where public health officials and experts are going to say no shaking hands, no public contact … We may be witnessing an era where television, or more so, social media, becomes the means to campaign in a coronavirus world.”

To most campaign observers, the likelihood of any widespread disruption of the primary remains dim. But if the virus does spread, the mechanical implications for campaigns could be profound.

In the case of an outbreak, said Boyd Brown, a former South Carolina lawmaker and former Democratic National Committee member, “It’s going to be tough. I’m watching [TV] right now and they’re stoking fears, they’re coming live from face mask manufacturing facilities.”

Reaching for an image, Brown, who helped Beto O’Rourke before he abandoned his presidential run, compared the prospect of a coronavirus-afflicted primary to a barren landscape, “very much like the last couple of weeks of the Beto campaign.”

For now, the coronavirus has been felt most severely in the United States in the financial markets and as a point of political positioning, with Democrats criticizing President Donald Trump for his handling of the crisis in recent days.

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SOURCE: Politico, David Siders