(Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign said on Thursday it would launch an in-person voter-canvassing operation in several battleground states, shifting tactics in the final weeks of a race upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of Biden’s Democratic allies have expressed concern the campaign has been too cautious about getting boots on the ground for voter mobilization in the states that will decide the Nov. 3 election.
The campaign had put safety first in light of the pandemic, choosing to forgo door-knocking in favor of remote contacts even though President Donald Trump’s campaign has been running an extensive in-person effort.
But in coming days, the Biden team will send several hundred volunteers to Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to focus on contacting voters who may be difficult to reach by phone or computer, with plans to expand the effort to more states ahead of the election.
“We’re now expanding on our strategy in a targeted way that puts the safety of communities first and foremost and helps us mobilize voters who are harder to reach by phone now that we’re in the final stretch,” said Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, who had dismissed criticism of Democratic field organizing.
Democratic allies worried the lack of an in-person ground game could be a misstep given the close margins in several battleground states that helped the Republican Trump narrowly defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“Trump’s running a full-blown get-out-the-damn-vote operation and the Democrats are doing a virtual get-out-the-vote effort by Zoom,” said Brad Crone, an independent political consultant in North Carolina. “There’s a world of difference.”
Some Biden supporters in Florida – a huge prize with 29 electoral votes – also have been uneasy about the campaign’s quiet presence there, particularly with recent polling in the state showing Trump making gains with crucial Latino voting groups. On his first campaign trip of the year to the state last month, Biden barely interacted with voters.
“We need to door-knock,” said Jose Parra, a Florida-based strategist who heads the Hispanic-focused communications group Prospero Latino. “Even if it only manages to move 10,000 votes, that could be the difference in a state as close as Florida.”
Both Florida and North Carolina are among states that will see an expanded voter-canvassing operation in coming weeks, according to a person familiar with the matter.
RAMPING UP SCHEDULE
The Biden campaign maintained that its remote outreach was engaging voters and had already resumed dropping pamphlets at homes.
Biden has consistently led Trump in national opinion polls, although the race is closer in the battleground states. Other indicators show Biden and Democrats generating momentum as voters begin to cast early and mail-in ballots.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll in late September found 82% of registered Democrats and 81% of registered Republicans were “completely certain” they would vote, eliminating a traditional enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans.
Spurred by opposition to Trump, a record-breaking surge of fundraising by Biden has also buoyed Democratic hopes for November. In August, Biden and the national Democratic Party outraised Trump and the Republicans by $364.5 million to $210 million, translating into a blitz of television advertising.
Biden has begun to crank up his campaign schedule. The former vice president last week made his first trip of the general election to North Carolina, where polls show a dead heat with Trump, who racked up five visits there in a month’s time between late August and late September.
Biden and his wife, Jill, took a train trip through Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Wednesday after the debate in Cleveland, the kind of multi-stop battleground-state tour that some of his backers had pushed.
Trump’s campaign, which for months has knocked on doors and hosted large rallies, often over the objections of local elected officials and public health experts, said its rival’s efforts were too little, too late.
“You can’t just parachute in a month before the election and hope to make up ground,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York, Michael Martina in Detroit and John Whitesides in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)