• Joe Biden won Super Tuesday states where he didn’t spend money or visit.
  • Now he is stuck inside due to the coronavirus pandemic, unable to campaign on the road.
  • But polls show he’s leading Trump in key states, meaning Biden could be the first phantom candidate elected president.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesperson for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Every four years, modern presidential campaigning evolves. Something new happens that transforms conventional wisdom, be it a change in technology, turnout, or tactic. 

This year, presidential campaigning has devolved. And it isn’t just because the coronavirus pandemic has stopped the world. It’s also the way the primaries unfolded.

On Super Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden won several states he neither campaigned in – even one time – nor spent money in. The virus then took over, but the momentum from those wins resulted in Biden effortlessly trouncing Sen. Bernie Sanders in state after state.

Now, with the general election approaching and a pandemic still gripping the country, the challenge will be to reach voters in new ways. Governors who tilt the balance of public health and economics toward saving lives will rightly restrict large gatherings. That means candidates will lose the high touch (literally and figuratively) opportunities to reach voters through rallies, policy events, and town halls — plus the local free media in swing states that comes with the territory.

Come November 3, Biden could be the first phantom-elected president. With his wide personal appeal even on the right, he could pull it off.

Biden’s two abilities

In Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that usually catapult presidents, Biden wasn’t anyone’s first, second, or third choice. Then in South Carolina, he became the party favorite because of two important abilities: electability and likeability.

Biden won in 10 of the 14 Super Tuesday states, five of which he had not invested in. And he invested far less than his rivals in the rest of the states that he won. His simultaneous dominance at the polls and absence from the campaign trail has continued to this day.

Despite an early lack of enthusiasm for Biden, the opportunity to fire the president is likely to be exciting enough for Democrats and anti-Trump conservatives. 

And while Biden is not out front during the coronavirus pandemic, his decision to stay locked in a basement, pushing his message to people who want to hear it is a wise one. President Trump’s efforts to spin the pandemic to his advantage are backfiring, his neediness to be in the middle is naked, and his attempts at outrage are a yawner. The Trump Daily Show is repellent to many of the people who will decide the presidency. So have at it, Mr. President.

Biden has the early lead in enough swing states to take the White House even though Trump is leading the airtime. Once again, Biden is doing significantly less than the opposition, and again, it’s working.

The values election

Conventional wisdom is that candidates need to stand for something to win, but conventional wisdom is usually wrong. Biden is standing against Trump. This is a values election, and the contrast couldn’t be clearer.

People know Biden. They know his big heart where Trump has none. They know he shows empathy for the stress Americans are under. Trump only shows empathy for himself. 

Not only do people know Joe, they know his flaws too. When his gaffe-o-meter hits new heights, even for him, he hasn’t suffered for it. Although voters have shown time and again that they care about issues and not personality, having less airtime for Biden means less ammo for his critics.

Biden has been hit for running a campaign that harkens back to the past. But the past is his strength. Voters know and trust him. With the virus and its economic malaise, plus four years of demagoguery and dishonesty, Americans are looking for comfort. Trump can’t offer that. Joe can.

Michael has a long history in marketing and communications strategy and Democratic politics. He worked in the Clinton administration and as spokesperson for the Clinton Justice Department. He also has served on multiple national, state, and local campaigns.

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