PITTSBURGH – Joe Biden opened the first week of the general-election campaign with a morning flight to a must-win battleground state where he delivered a blistering speech against his rival, President Donald Trump. He dropped off pizzas at a local firehouse, took photos with first-responders and swung by a private fundraiser headlined by Cher before catching a return flight home.
For a moment, traditional campaigning — complete with chartered airplanes, unannounced visits and sometimes awkward celebrity moments — returned to America.
But Biden's Monday trip to Pittsburgh, his first substantial travel in months, was anything but normal. Local rules designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus meant that voters in this swath of western Pennsylvania who could decide the election couldn't watch Biden deliver his speech in-person. Some Biden staffers had to leave to prevent overcrowding in the room. And the fundraiser was held virtually, with Biden joining from the same building as the speech.
Cher, appearing virtually, said of Trump, “The guy is really an idiot."
With both parties' conventions over and the campaign entering the home stretch, the Pennsylvania swing offered a preview of how Biden will likely spend his days before the election: day trips to critical states where he participates in carefully controlled events and does little of the glad-handing that he is known for. Biden's campaign insists it is listening to science by keeping him away from crowds and wearing a mask in public, in contrast with Trump, who packed people onto the White House's South Lawn last week for his speech accepting the Republican Party's nomination for a second term.
Biden is betting that his more reserved approach will appeal to voters seeking to move past the tumult of the Trump era. But he's competing against a president who eagerly harnesses the power of incumbency to advance his political prospects.
Trump routinely flies around the country on official business that often feels like campaign events with large crowds — usually gleefully flaunting social distancing and mask-wearing rules — gathering at the airport to cheer him. The president will travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday after some protests there became violent in recent days following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer.
Trump told reporters on Monday that the trip could “increase enthusiasm” in the state, which is another battleground.