Democracy 2020 Digest: Virtual campaign begins under cloud of coronavirus outbreak

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Sen. Bernie Sanders says the coronavirus outbreak “has radically changed our campaign.”

Speaking with reporters Friday from his hometown of Burlington, Vt., the populist senator -- who’s making his second straight bid for the Democratic presidential nomination -- acknowledged that “we are in the process of thinking this through but this coronavirus has obviously impacted our ability to communicate with people in the tradition that we do and that’s hurting.”


Welcome to a presidential race without a traditional campaign trail -- where virtual campaigning is fast becoming the new normal.

While Sanders is hunkered down in his hometown, Biden’s doing the same as he remains in Wilmington, Del.

Both candidates will travel to the nation’s capital for Sunday’s Democratic presidential nomination debate. The faceoff between the two remaining major Democratic contenders was moved to a TV studio in Washington, D.C., after a live audience in Arizona was abruptly canceled this week due to concerns over the grown coronavirus pandemic.

With traditional rallies and town halls a thing of the past, following warnings against large gatherings coming from public and health officials on Friday, Biden held his first virtual town hall with Illinois voters ahead of their Tuesday presidential primary.

“We’ll continue to assess and adjust how we conduct our campaign as we move forward and find new ways to share our message with the public while putting the health and safety of the American people first,” Biden said on Thursday.

His campaign also announced that fundraisers with top-dollar donors -- which the former vice president had almost always done in person -- were also going the virtual route.

On Friday, Sanders highlighted that he’ll showcase what he said was an already-robust online campaign.

“What I think we have going for us which we’ve always had going for us but what we’re going to utilize even more is our internet capabilities. We have many, many millions of people follow us on Twitter, follow us on other platforms. We livestream everything that we do,” the senator said.


Both campaigns are asking their staff at their national headquarters and at field offices across the country to work from home.

“Our staff is now by and large working at home,” Sanders noted.

And top Biden officials also said that starting on Saturday that “all Biden for president employees both in our Philadelphia headquarters and in field offices across the country will work from home.”

Bayou State postponement 

Louisiana moved to postpone its April 4 presidential primary due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, state election officials announced Friday.

The primary -- which includes mayoral races and local propositions, as well as the presidential ballot -- will instead be held June 20, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced at a news conference in Baton Rouge.

Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, told Fox News the governor was expected to sign an executive order later on Friday officially moving the election to June.

Louisiana is the first state that’s holding an upcoming primary or caucus to move to delay their contest. Louisiana is one of only five states that gives governors the power to move elections due to an emergency.

Sanders, when asked about the postponement of Louisiana's primary, told reporters that "elections are the bedrock of our democracy and we don’t want to be delaying elections on a willy nilly basis."

But he stressed that "there is obviously a growing concern about bringing people together and spreading the virus... I don’t think there’s anybody out there -- no matter what your political view may be -- that wants to see people become infected because they are voting."

Last-minute polling place changes 

Four states hold primaries on Tuesday – Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

Election officials in the four states are making last-minute moves -- such as moving polling places away from locations with heavy concentrations of high-risk people, such as nursing homes.

Meanwhile, Arizona's Secretary of State's office told Fox News it couldn't move the date of their primary because it would require legislative action.

The secretary of states of Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio put out a joint statement emphasizing that “we are working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe.”

“Unlike concerts, sporting events or other mass gatherings where large groups of people travel long distances to congregate in a confined space for an extended period of time, polling locations see people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration,” they noted.

And the secretary of states highlighted that “guidance from voting machine manufacturers on how best to sanitize machines, guidance from CDC on best practices for hand washing, and guidance from our respective state health officials is being provided to every polling location.”

'Get tested'

Sanders is one of the latest in a growing list of people to urge that President Trump get tested for coronavirus, which is officially known as COVID-19.


Asked on Friday by Fox News if the president should take a test, Sanders answered: “I would. You know, I was asked early on, to the best of my knowledge, I have not been in proximity to somebody who had the virus. If I knew that I was, I would get tested, and I think that holds true for the president.”

The president has recently been in contact with a number of people who have tested positive for the virus. On Friday afternoon -- after declaring a national emergency in response to the pandemic -- Trump said he will “most likely” be tested for coronavirus “fairly soon.”

But the president shook hands with some of those who joined him for the major announcement. That violated a major rule his public health officials have stressed, to avoid shaking hands.

Fox News' Lee Ross and Andrew Craft contributed to this report.