Biden, Sanders go virtual as virus freezes US Democratic race
Outbreak shifts spotlight away from US Democratic presidential contenders
WASHINGTON: Three weeks ago, US Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were hosting rallies that attracted thousands. The pair often visited two states a day in their fierce and spirited battle for votes.
Today, they appear online as lonely candidates hunkered down in their homes, forced off the trail and into campaign reinvention mode as the intensifying coronavirus pandemic upends the Democratic presidential primaries along with every other aspect of American life.
Mr Biden, the 77-year-old front runner, and Mr Sanders, the 78-year-old underdog, have paused all in-person campaigning. Live town halls are no more.
Several states have postponed their primaries on coronavirus fears - New York was the latest to do so on Saturday - and another debate between the two candidates is unlikely.
The dozens of reporters who followed the two candidates for months have peeled away.
Even the Democratic National Convention set for mid-July, when the party officially nominates their candidate to challenge President Donald Trump in November, is at risk.
"We're doing a virtual campaign, if you like," Mr Sanders said on Thursday on National Public Radio.
While the Democrats are reduced to basement livestreaming, Mr Trump, also deprived of hosting his raucous rallies, is monopolising the spotlight.
The daily, nationally televised White House coronavirus task force briefings often stretch for more than 90 minutes, with Mr Trump sometimes taking up an entire hour at the podium.
The Republican incumbent's handling of the crisis has earned mixed reviews, but his job approval rating has ticked up - and he is front and centre every day.
Desperate to stay relevant, Mr Biden and Mr Sanders are participating in multiple webcasts, including roundtables with their respective health advisers on the latest coronavirus developments.
No matter what the format, Mr Trump's rivals are gaining little national attention.
"For the time being, there is no real way for Biden or Sanders to break through," University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, an expert on US politics, said.
"The pandemic is the only story that matters."
The Biden and Sanders campaigns were radically altered on March 10, when they both cancelled election night rallies in Ohio.
Mr Sanders, whose campaign has been more attuned to young Americans and their constant glances at social media, was quicker out of the online gate.
Mr Biden, despite tightening his grip on the nomination, practically disappeared from the campaign for days. - AFP