Presidential campaigns have shifted into high gear even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the nation. But what does a campaign look like during a pandemic? How will party conventions work? Is coronavirus and the national reckoning on race and justice factoring into running mate considerations? And what is Congress doing to address the pandemic’s impact on the nation?
Watch the conversation in the video player above.
PBS NewsHour’s Daniel Bush and Lisa Desjardins tackled these topics July 27 and took viewer questions on all things politics.
How will conventions be affected by the pandemic?
The Democratic and Republican National Conventions are both shaping up to be much smaller in scale this year than in previous election years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Desjardins said her reporting indicates that Democrats will move to shorter evenings of convention activity, with events in Milwaukee only from 9 to 11 p.m. each night, and roll call will happen virtually.
“The Republican Convention has been the great shrinking convention,” Bush said. While Trump pushed aggressively to hold a relatively normal convention with 20,000 or so delegates, he will ultimately end up with a much more pared down event in North Carolina, where the Democratic governor challenged Republicans’ efforts to hold a large-scale convention, prompting them to temporarily relocate the event to Jacksonville, Florida, before the decision last week to scale down.
“These conventions are usually the ultimate adrenaline shot for either party,” Desjardins said, but the usual fanfare that normally accompanies each party’s event might be absent with few people in attendance at this year’s convention. That could ultimately be a good thing for former Vice President and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Democrats, she said.
Could Republicans lose the Senate?
Bush and Desjardins both said vulnerable Republican lawmakers are facing real challenges to their seats this year, particularly in the Senate. Bush noted incumbents in Colorado, Arizona and Maine are particularly at risk of being defeated by Democrats looking to shift the balance of power in the Senate. If Biden wins the presidency, Democrats will only need to flip three seats in order to control the Senate, with his vice president acting as a tie-breaker in a 50-50 split chamber. Flipping four seats would give Democrats control even if Trump is reelected.
“I’d be surprised if Republicans held onto the Senate,” if the election were held today, Desjardins said, adding that North Carolina, Montana and Iowa are all tight races. Iowa Sen. Jodie Ernst, in particular, faces a formidable challenge in Democrat Theresa Greenfield, she said.
“The headwinds are so strong against Republicans,” Desjardins said, adding that down ballot Republicans are much more vulnerable to negative approval ratings coming out of the White House. “I’ve always thought that [Trump’s] approval ratings affect other Republicans more than they affect him,” she said, she said, adding that some staffers are already talking about leadership shake ups in the Senate.
Where Congress stands on extending unemployment benefits
Democrats and Republicans are still in negotiations as to whether to allow the extra $600 in unemployment benefits that had been allotted to those who lost jobs during the pandemic to continue past Friday, July 31.
Desjardins explained that while Democrats want to continue to provide the extra $600 to unemployed Americans, Republicans believe it’s too much money, and argue that some Americans are making more money while unemployed than they were when they held jobs. Instead, Republican lawmakers want states to pay unemployed people 70 percent of their previous income. If this plan is approved, the amount of unemployment benefits would vary greatly from state to state.
“The bottom line is, we’ve got millions of Americans who have rent coming up for August who don’t have jobs because of the pandemic, and it’s not clear when they will be getting more money in their unemployment benefits,” Desjardins said. “I think Congress needs at least two weeks, maybe three, to come close to a deal. To be honest, it’s a mess.”
How has campaigning changed?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected campaigning not only for candidates, but also the Americans volunteering for them. Amid the pandemic, Republican and Democratic teams have been pursuing new strategies ranging from Zoom video conferencing calls to interactive video game meetups in order to better reach voters during this time of social distancing.
But Bush, who was recently reporting in Michigan, says in-person campaigning has recently picked back up, with new safety measures being taken. There is still a ban on large gatherings in most states, but some campaign volunteers are going door to door, talking to voters — knocking, leaving campaign literature at their doors and then backing away, attempting to speak to people from a safe distance.
“Whereas that wasn’t happening before, we are beginning to see that happen more,” said Bush.