The elbow bump has replaced the handshake. “Hand sanitizer” and “soap” are considered debate night buzzwords. Rallies and town halls are held exclusively online. Field organizers are working from home. And “I wash my hands” is a CDC-friendly campaign slogan. Welcome to the art of campaigning in the age of coronavirus. The global pandemic comes as the presidential primary process is still underway, says CBSN political reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns, changing the very nature of traditional “hand to hand” campaigning and offering a rare, real-time and multilayered test for a would-be commander-in-chief.
It is also threatening the act of in-person voting, prompting some states to postpone their primaries over health concerns, including Ohio’s primary, which was scheduled for today. Florida, Illinois and Arizona went ahead with their primaries as scheduled but made changes to accommodate concern about the virus, like moving polling locations out of senior living facilities and offering sanitizing materials. “In-person voting is a comparable transaction to picking up a takeout restaurant order or shopping at a grocery store,” said Matt Dietrich of the Illinois State Board of Elections. “Primary voting typically is a swift transaction that can be done at a safe distance from other voters.”
Officials and campaigns alike have also been advocating for absentee or mail-in voting, where available, in the coming primaries. These options have been available in several of the states that have voted.
Together, Tuesday’s three contests offer 441 delegates. Joe Biden has won Florida, CBS News projects, and he’s poised for victories in Illinois and Arizona, too. Bernie Sanders’ pathway to the nomination does not appear to be mathematically possible.
Still, postponing the remaining primaries could prolong the nomination process, and depressed voter turnout could affect the ability of the campaigns to glean the crucial demographic and messaging data points from the votes.
Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky and Maryland have all also suspended primaries slated to take place over the next several weeks.
Democrats do see some silver linings emerging from this unconventional primary process, however, and hope it leads to more states allowing other options to vote besides in-person.
“We are really on the cusp here on a big expansion of early and absentee voting, and tremendous innovation in the campaign world,” says Robby Mook, a CBS News political analyst and former Hillary Clinton campaign manager. “Voters are sitting at home, you’ve got a captive audience….Every time you’re reaching people online you’re able to reach more people.”
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s primaries, the Democratic campaigns have operated largely online, canceling all in-person events and instructing staff to work from home. On Monday night, Sanders’ campaign held a “first-ever digital rally” with several musical guests, distributed via livestream. Last week, he broadcast a fireside chat. Biden hosted a tele-town hall on Monday, where the impact of the pandemic was a top concern.
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After run-ins with protesters in New Hampshire and California, Joe Biden officially received full protection from the Secret Service on Tuesday, according to a spokesperson. As the future of the 2020 race continues to remain uncertain, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson says Biden, like his fellow Americans, is at home following “social distancing” guidelines. While the campaign has repeatedly said they are following the advice of local and state public health officials regarding Tuesday’s primary contests, they also today released a memo declaring the US “held elections during the Civil War, the 1918 flu pandemic, and World War II.” Regarding potential health fears keeping voters from the polls, the campaign also said they believe “overall turnout will be roughly on pace for 2016 in Arizona and Florida and roughly on pace for 2018 in Illinois” due to early voting measures.
As the primary process continues to creep along, a hot topic of political gossip is taking hold around the Biden campaign: If he is the nominee, who should his vice presidential nominee be? It is unclear if the campaign has begun the vetting process for vice president, but Biden prompted speculation this week when he promised to choose a woman.
So, allies of his are already sending their recommendations, including former Congressman Luis Guiterrez, who wrote that Biden should pick a Latina. Other allies of Biden’s have told CBS News they’d like to see former Democratic presidential rivals Senators Kamala Harris or Amy Klobuchar on the shortlist.
Sanders’ campaign announced today that in the midst of the COVID19 crisis, their last three digital events have amassed 5.3 million views across various online platforms. Saturday’s fireside chat from Sanders’ Burlington home has been viewed 2.8 million times. Their pre-debate streamed event Sunday, which did not feature the senator himself, has 1 million views. And Monday’s digital rally featuring a performance by Neil Young has so far been viewed 1.6 million times. In addition to the view counts, CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte says the Sanders camp announced Tuesday morning on a fundraising email that they have received more than 10 million contributions. As of March 1, they had 8.7 million donations since the start of the campaign.
The Arizona Democratic Party backed the state’s move to carry on with the primary election, celebrating already record early voting turnout for the contest across the state. By Monday in Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest by population, Democratic ballot returns had already topped 2016’s primary by more than 70,000 votes.
In just the first hour of polls were opening today, an additional 3,500 were cast. Election officials across Arizona told CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin they raced to make changes to address the coronavirus pandemic, insisting they were not hampered by staffing and cleaning supply shortfalls that have plagued polls in other states.
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes on Tuesday suggested the primary was already on schedule. “We already tabulated just about every ballot that we’ve had in house which is a first time, ever.”
CBS News declared Joe Biden the winner as the polls closed in Florida, a battleground state. Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee said that with the exception of a couple of counties in South Florida, voting locations around the state opened on time.
By Monday evening, nearly 2 million Florida voters had already cast ballots via early voting and voting by mail. But even with these early totals, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reported that some county supervisors, political party leaders, and Florida voters expressed concern about how coronavirus would impact the state’s in-person voting turnout totals. A group of civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit against both the governor’s and the secretary of state’s offices demanding “reasonable voting accommodations” be made for Floridians.
Stephanie Porta, the co-founder and executive director of Organize Florida, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, said, “There are thousands of people in Florida who are under self-quarantine or forced quarantine, who are unable to participate in this election as well as thousands of students who have been ordered to move home…it’s important that we have participation levels that ensure that everybody’s voice is heard in a democracy.”
The complaint requested an extension for people to be able to request a vote-by-mail ballot to March 27. It also asked the state to contact voters whose precincts changed as a result of site relocations. By the Florida Democratic Party’s count, at least 91 precincts had closed or moved throughout the state in the days before the primary contest. The state Democratic Party staff contacted voters to let them know of precinct changes based on information gathered from conversations with state county supervisors.
Executive Director Juan Peñalosa said that modernizing voting is essential to mitigate future potential risks like coronavirus. “For us to continue to vote as we did 50 years ago or 100 years ago is ludicrous. We need to modernize our voting systems to keep up to date with a changing world,” said Peñalosa. “We need to update the way we vote and how we allow people access to their vote and if we are not able to do that between now and November then we’ve failed — not just the Democratic Party but our government has failed.”
Rachel Gilmer, co-director of Dream Defenders — another one of the groups included in the aforementioned lawsuit — was saddened by the low turnout that she observed Tuesday in her own polling place in Miami-Dade County. “I vote every election and I went to my polling place and for the first time ever, my polling pace was like completely empty. It was me and one other person there and usually I have to wait in line to go and vote. I always vote on election day,” said Gilmer.
Voters in Chicago, where a lion’s share of Illinois’ votes will come out of, saw a whirlwind start to voting on Tuesday, says CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. In calls with reporters, Chicago Board of Elections spokesperson Jim Allen said they’ve had to relocate more than 200 polling locations in the past couple days, with a couple of them dropping out as soon as this morning. This led to some precincts to not have the election machine or supplies they need. “That was the biggest issue of the morning,” Allen said. In addition to some precincts not having equipment, a Cook County official confirmed with Navarro that 850 election judges told Cook County ahead of time that they would not show up on election day, and that there’s more that didn’t show up without giving a heads up. They said they’ve been able to replace most of them.
Federal guidance from CDC was distributed to all polling locations. Some in Cook County tried to maintain the proper line distancing of six feet by marking spaces on the floor. One voter told Navarro that one precinct had voters wait outside before entering to vote.
Officials expected low overall turnout, but saw records in mail-ballots and early voting. State Board of Elections spokesperson Matt Dietrich said “if this were a normal year,” they would have expected turnout to approach the 47% the state had in 2016. Dietrich pointed to the 33% average across the past five presidential primaries instead. The combination of the early vote and returned ballots account for 10% of registered voter turnout.
The Chicago Board of Elections and Governor J.B. Pritzker played a bit of the blame game, after Allen said in a morning call that they requested a move to mandatory mail ballots but that it was rejected by the governor.
“We have a health order from the state not to have gatherings of 50 or more people, can you please reconcile that with having an election?” Allen said on the call.
Pritzker took a moment to respond in a daily coronavirus press briefing, saying that he offered aid from the National Guard and a group of volunteers, but that that was rejected by the Chicago board. “There are people out there today who want to say, ‘Oh, it’s a crisis, bend the rules and overstep your authority.’ Let me tell you this, it is exactly in times like these, when the constitutional boundaries of our democracy should be respected above all else,” Pritzker said.
“It is not a time for games. It’s not a time for political posturing. It’s not a time to complain that you’re being asked to do uncomfortable things, to make hard choices to go above and beyond in your responsibilities.”
Polls did not open in Ohio Tuesday after the state health director backed by the governor and secretary of state ordered all polling locations to be closed, citing a health emergency. In a statement, Governor Mike DeWine said the state was facing an unprecedented public health crisis and to conduct an election would “force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus.” CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says the move came Monday night just hours after a county judge rejected a lawsuit calling for the state’s March 17 primary to be postponed, but overnight, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the decision to keep polling places closed Tuesday after a complaint was filed by a candidate for county court to have the primary move forward March 17. On Tuesday, Boards of Elections posted signs at polling locations letting voters know voting had been postponed. It’s now slated to take place on June 2. As directed by the secretary of state’s office, the boards of elections will process absentee ballot applications postmarked by May 26, and returned ballots must be postmarked by June 1.
Meanwhile, while the Democratic Party of Ohio said in a statement that holding the primary election on Tuesday would have been impossible given the “chaos, confusion and mixed messages of the past 24 hours. The party is calling for the primary to conclude before June 2. “Extending for that long is highly problematic for any number for reasons, and it is not at all clear that in-person voting will be possible on that date anyway,” read the statement. The state Democratic Party is now calling for expanded vote-by-mail, making sure absentee ballots are widely available, include pre-paid postage, are counted and there is an option for secure curbside absentee ballot drop off, among other efforts to comply with laws protecting voting rights.
Maryland is joining a growing list of states across the country that are delaying elections amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus, report CBS News political unit associate producers Sarah Ewall-Wice and Eleanor Watson. In a press conference Tuesday, Republican Governor Larry Hogan announced a proclamation to move the state’s primary elections from April 28 to June 2. He said his two main priorities are keeping Maryland’s people safe and protecting their constitutional right to vote. Maryland is the fifth state to delay its presidential primary, following the decisions of Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio. Mr. Hogan said he expects more states to make similar decisions in response to coronavirus. There is one exception to Hogan’s proclamation. He said the special election for Congressman Elijah Cummings’ seat in Maryland’s seventh congressional district scheduled for April 28 will go forward using a vote-by-mail program.
The Puerto Rican Senate approved the Democratic party’s request to postpone their primary from March 29 to April 26, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. In a release, Charles Rodriguez, chairman of the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico, said Governor Wanda Vazquez has indicated she will sign the bill as soon as it reaches her desk. Rodriguez told CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson that Puerto Rico House of Representatives will convene on Thursday, and that the governor will have the bill late Thursday evening or Friday.
As a number of states postpone primaries and other state officials continue to monitor the situation, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez is urging the remaining primary states to protect the health of voters by implementing a number of steps including vote by mail. “As our country deals with the uncertainty of coronavirus, it is critical that states provide clarity and not confusion, which could lead to disenfranchising voters,” Perez said in a statement. “States can provide easy access to voting while still taking necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of the American people.” Along with pushing for vote by mail, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says Perez also suggested no-excuse absentee voting where voters can drop off their ballots at a convenient location or in the mail. He’s also calling for the days and hours of voting to be expanded where in-person voting can still take place to cut down on lines.
Meanwhile, Perez slammed Ohio’s late night primary postponement, echoing the state Democratic party by saying Monday night only led to “more chaos and confusion.” He said the Ohio state party is working tirelessly to protect the right to vote and argued that other states should make it easier to vote rather than moving primaries to later in the election season where there could be continued uncertainty. So far, five states have postponed primaries to dates in May and June. Perez said the DNC said it will work with state parties around their delegate selection plans so that states can elect their delegates to the national convention once they are allocated.
CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says Biden and Sanders have spent more than $100 million on advertising during the 2020 Democratic primary, but neither candidate currently has advertising buys scheduled beyond today, according to Kantar/CMAG data. Sanders, who has spent $73,810,697, was scheduled to spend $97,245 on broadcast and cable television in Georgia today. Georgia’s primary was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 24, but Georgia’s Secretary of State recently postponed the primary to May 19 due to coronavirus. Biden does not have any advertising booked Tuesday or moving forward and Unite The Country, a super PAC supporting Biden, currently does not have any scheduled advertising buys.
At a White House Press Conference today, the Trump administration advocated for sending immediate cash payments directly to Americans, part of an historic $850 billion economic stimulus package originating in Congress and aimed at quelling economic fallout from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin told reporters on Tuesday. “And I mean now, in the next two weeks.” Lawmakers, including Senator Mitt Romney, have proposed “immediately sending $1,000 checks to each American.” It was the topic of discussion during a Monday night meeting between Romney and Mnuchin. Mnuchin has not endorsed a specific dollar amount for check payments, suggesting that there might be cash payment cut-off for higher-income earning households. “I think it’s clear we don’t need to send people who make a million dollars a year checks,” Mnuchin said during the White House press conference.
Before the worldwide coronavirus crisis, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says presidential candidate Andrew Yang proposed granting every adult American monthly payments of $1,000, turning the concept of “Universal Basic Income” into a household name for many. Yang tweeted Tuesday that his team “has been in touch with the White House” and is offering up resources. “It’s unfortunate to see this development take place under the current circumstances, but this is exactly what Universal Basic Income is designed to do– offer a way to ensure that Americans can make ends meet when they need it most,” Yang said in a statement released by “Humanity First”, his Super PAC. “I look forward to monitoring the developments of the White House as they consider methods of distribution, and both me and my team are eager to offer our support to ensure this process runs as smoothly as possible,” the statement continued. “My hope is that these checks extend beyond this period of dire need in order to prepare us for any future crises and the continued transformation of our economy and our society.”
Several Senate campaigns have announced they are suspending campaign activities to mitigate the threat of the coronavirus, but several campaigns are also using their infrastructure to help out others during the outbreak, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Congressman Joe Kennedy, who is challenging incumbent Senator Ed Markey in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts, announced Monday night that he will be using his campaign email list to fundraise for organizations in Massachusetts and across the country that are working to provide relief. Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who is up for reelection in November, has encouraged her supporters to call or text five people to check in and make sure they’re doing OK. Democratic Senator Gary Peters in Michigan has asked supporters to donate to state food banks instead of his campaign, and Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is running in the Democratic primary to challenge Republican Senator David Perdue in Georgia in November, released a public health video Tuesday afternoon with his wife, who is a doctor, about the need to implement social distancing.
On the House side, candidates involved in Tuesday races have had to adapt their “Get Out the Vote” efforts due to the pandemic, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. In Illinois’ 3rd district, Democrat challenger Marie Newman encouraged people to join a remote phone bank to encourage others to vote. “It’s going to look a little different than it has in past years. We won’t have volunteers knocking on doors or organizing large groups to go to the polls — and that’s the way it should be right now,” a Newman email to supporters read. “That means we’re counting on people like you all the more.” A consultant for a Republican congressional candidate in Illinois’ 14th district told Navarro they’ve had to cancel their election watch night party, and will only have essential staff in a room to monitor results. “It’s a very bizarre election day for me, having been a part of a bunch of these,” they said.
Maryland’s 7th district special election for the former seat of late-Congressman Elijah Cummings will remain on April 28, despite the Presidential race being moved to June 2. The caveat is that all ballots for this race will be cast by mail. Democrat Kweisi Mfume, who previously represented this district, and Republican Kimberly Klacik are both looking to win and serve out the rest of Cummings’ term. Though this district leans heavily Democratic, Klacik tweeted that the mandatory mail ballots “means our chances of flipping this seat red just increased.”
In California, former Congressman Duncan Hunter was sentenced 11 months in federal prison on Tuesday, after he previously plead guilty to misusing campaign funds, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. It’s an end to a long case that began before he was re-elected in 2018, and involved campaign funds being used for vacations, tickets and affairs Hunter was having. Hunter previously served as Congressman for the state’s 50th district, encompassing much of San Diego County. He resigned in January, with his former Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar and former California Congressman Darrell Issa running to fill the spot.
Two primary races to watch for Tuesday night in Illinois are in the Chicago collar suburban counties. In Illinois’ 3rd district, progressive candidate Marie Newman is trying to beat an incumbent “Blue Dog” Democrat, Congressman Dan Lipinski. Newman came within 2.2 points in 2018, and has received the support of groups like EMILY’s List and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Lipinski is pretty conservative on some social issues, most notably abortion, which has drawn the ire of pro-choice groups like EMILY’s List, but has held this southwest Chicago suburb district since 2004 and always handily wins against any Republican candidate.
In Illinois’ 14th district, seven Republican candidates are looking to flip the district back red, after Democratic Congresswoman Lauren Underwood pulled off the upset in 2018 and beat Republican Randy Hultgren. Perennial state politics candidate Jim Oberweis has loaned $1 million to his campaign, though financial trader Ted Gradel has the advantage in terms of cash on hand. State Senators Sue Rezin and businesswoman Catalina Lauf are also running for this district, though there will be no runoff as the one with the majority of the votes will win outright.
More than 200 organizations have signed on to a letter urging Congress and state elected officials to protect voting rights amid the evolving 2020 primary and general election schedule, according to CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion. At least five states have postponed their primaries due to the coronavirus outbreak. The coalition calls for allowing online voter registration in all states, extending voter registration deadlines, expanding early voting and making mail-in ballots available to all registered voters. It also recommends state and local officials identify polling locations that protect vulnerable communities but also ensure access for minority voters, voters with disabilities and students. “Indeed, the very purpose of these policy recommendations is to provide guidance on how each state can administer their elections without disenfranchising any of our fellow citizens,” said the groups. “We are in a state of national crisis now; that is why it’s all the more important that we band together to safeguard both our health and our democracy.” The letter was initiated by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Billionaire and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will be making another sizable donation to a political organization Tuesday, CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports. Bloomberg is donating $2 million to Swing Left, a national grassroots organization consisting of over a million volunteers and donors with the goal of flipping seats from red to blue. “I’m glad to help Swing Left continue the work of organizing voters in those states.” Bloomberg said in a statement. “When supporters wanted to donate to our campaign, I suggested they instead give to groups like Swing Left — because whoever the nominee is, Swing Left can help us achieve our goal: Defeating Donald Trump, electing Democrats up and down the ballot, and getting our country back on track.” Since he ended his presidential campaign, Bloomberg has announced several donations through Bloomberg Philanthropies to organizations that range from registering people of color to vote to combating coronavirus. Last week, his charitable organization announced it would spend $40 million to fight the spread of coronavirus.
This election cycle Swing Left Executive Director and Co-Chair Ethan Todras-Whitehill welcomed the cash infusion, saying that defeating President Trump will require “everyone’s support.” In 2020, the organization plans to focus its energy and efforts on the grassroots of 12 “Super States:” Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
“There’s no time to wait, which is why we’re organizing now to support eventual Democratic candidates in their general election battles.” Todras-Whitehill said in a statement. “This donation and others like it will help Swing Left continue to fulfill our mission of making it as easy as possible for everyone to have maximum impact on the most important elections up and down the ballot — from wherever you live.” Bloomberg has already spent over $500 million during this campaign cycle, and this is not the first election cycle he’s investing heavily in. Bloomberg spent millions of his personal fortune in the 2018 midterm elections. While he ran for president, Bloomberg would often say that he helped flipped 21 House seats that proved to be consequential in helping House Speaker Nancy Pelosi regain control of the House and rise to Speaker.