WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was returning to Pennsylvania on Thursday night for a socially distanced town hall near Scranton, where he was born, after discussing campaign strategy with Senate allies.
For the first time since winning the nomination, Biden was to face live, unscripted questions from voters, with the coronavirus pandemic responsible for the unusual format of the CNN event: a drive-in of 35 cars parked outside PNC Field. Preparations were made to let audience members watch the candidate speak on a stage and screens set up in the lot, and listen on their radios from inside their cars.
President Donald Trump participated in an ABC town hall Tuesday in an auditorium in Philadelphia. The appearances have been considered tuneups before the three presidential debates; the first is Sept. 29.
The format of Biden’s event was a stark reminder of the issue that’s been a central focus of Biden’s campaign — that the pandemic rages on, affecting Americans’ lives in ways large and small, and that stronger leadership in White House could have eased the crisis.
Trump and Biden have spent all week accusing each other of undermining public trust in a potential coronavirus vaccine.
As Trump prepared for an evening rally in Wisconsin, Biden seized on the president openly contradicting the nation’s top health officials to claim a vaccine would be ready as early as next month, just before the Nov. 3 election.
“Mark my words — if I’m president, I’ll always level with the American people, and I’ll always tell the truth,” Biden said in a statement.
A former Republican official in the Trump White House — Olivia Troye, onetime homeland security aide to Vice President Mike Pence — endorsed Biden on Thursday, citing Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic.
Earlier in the day, Biden joined Senate Democrats for a conference call lunch and told allies that he is taking nothing for granted in the race for the White House and the down-ballot effort to wrest the Senate’s majority control from Republicans.
The 30-minute event was a homecoming of sorts for the former Delaware senator. On the private call, Biden fielded questions, particularly from senators facing reelection, about his strategy win back the chamber and defeat Trump.
“He just said, ‘You know what we’re up against. You know why this is so important,’” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said he encouraged Biden to remind workers how much he has been on their side during his many years in government.
“I’ve said Joe, people need to know that you recognize the dignity of the work, the people have built this country,” Manchin told reporters. “They need to know that you fought for their pensions, you fought for their health care… and you’re not gonna leave them behind.”
Biden’s campaign team has come under scrutiny in recent days over its outreach efforts, particularly for what some see as short shrift with Latino voters. At the same time, Democrats have mixed views over the party’s get-out-the-vote effort that largely bypasses traditional door-knocking to avoid health risks during the pandemic, instead relying on virtual outreach.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. PHOTO: AP