Canceled Rallies, Quiet Debates: How the Coronavirus Is Changing the 2020 Presidential Race

The novel coronavirus outbreak has led to the suspension of the NBA season, numerous school closings and the cancelation of some major public events. It’s changing the 2020 presidential race, too.

Both leading Democratic candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, canceled campaign events Tuesday night in Cleveland where each had been set to address supporters following six state primaries taking place around the country that day.

On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump canceled two upcoming re-election rallies planned for Colorado and Nevada, as health officials recommend that Americans use “social distancing” and avoid large crowds in order to slow the spread of the respiratory virus.

“Out of an abundance of caution from the Coronavirus outbreak, the President has decided to cancel his upcoming events in Colorado and Nevada,” the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement to reporters. (The president has not been tested for coronavirus and said earlier this week he feels fine, though he had come in close contact with lawmakers who were exposed to a coronavirus patient.)

“All future Bernie 2020 events will be evaluated on a case by case basis,” the Sanders campaign said in a statement Tuesday afternoon, canceling their rally in Cleveland hours before it was set to begin.

Biden’s campaign canceled its similar event at nearly the same moment on Tuesday — both cancelations coming after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine laid out the state’s plans to reduce large public gatherings to help stop the virus’ spread.

“In accordance with guidance from public officials and out of an abundance of caution, our rally in Cleveland, Ohio tonight is cancelled,” said Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. “We will continue to consult with public health officials and public health guidance and make announcements about future events in the coming days.”

Sunday’s Democratic debate also announced changes to reflect coronavirus concerns: It will not have an audience or a media work area.

Maryland, a state that has yet to vote in the Democratic primary, is reportedly considering changing its election to mail only.

Some are even wondering how many other campaign events might be canceled, including major gatherings such as the Democratic and Republican National Conventions which are scheduled for this summer.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said this week that, for now, he’s not considering canceling the mid-July event in Milwaukee and instead holding an online rally — which would mean thousands of delegates would have to cast their votes remotely when deciding whether Biden or Sanders will be the party’s nominee.

“We’d have to change the rules,” Perez told Axios. “We’re not contemplating rule changes.”

The Republican National Convention, scheduled for late August in Charlotte, North Carolina, has yet to make an announcement regarding its plans.

The RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday, though Vice President Mike Pence said this week that all of the president’s upcoming 2020 rallies — which have been a signature part of Trump’s campaign efforts — will be contemplated on “a day-to-day basis.”

The DNC announced this week that Sunday’s anticipated debate between Biden and Sanders, the first one-on-one debate of the 2020 presidential election, will take place in Phoenix without a live audience.

CNN, who is hosting Sunday’s debate, said the decision was made “at the request of the campaigns and out of an abundance of caution.”

The debate could be one of Sanders’ last chance to swing the Democratic presidential race back in his favor, after leading in the delegate count and national polls for the first month of the race before Biden’s stalling campaign made a dramatic “Super Tuesday” comeback on March 3, winning 10 states and sling-shotting him into the top spot for the potential nomination to run against President Trump in November.

“I’m here to report: We are very much alive,” Biden said earlier this month after his “Super Tuesday” wins. “And make no mistake about it, this campaign will send Donald Trump packing.”

As of Thursday morning, there were about 1,280 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 37 people had died, the vast majority of them in Washington state.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages maintaining basic forms of hygiene including careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.

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