Coronavirus: how the outbreak could impact the race for the White House

Experts say delays, disruptions and decisions over the outbreak could shape the views of voters come November

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It was only a year ago when the Democratic Party chose Milwaukee, over other cities such as Miami and Houston, as the location of its much-anticipated Democratic National Convention, where the party will nominate a challenger to President Donald Trump. The party also picked the week of July 13th.

But the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 278,000 Americans and killed 7,159 of them, swept that date away on Friday, along with the countless other events that have been postponed or cancelled across the world. It will now take place a month later in August.

Experts believe the epidemic is a crisis that may have an impact on the outcome of the Democratic contest and the wider race for the White House that culminates in November, not only because of disruptions, but shifting perceptions about each candidate's response to the epidemic.

That seemingly small, one-month delay for the Democratic Party could make a significant difference in the battle between favourite Joe Biden and socialist Bernie Sanders, Dr Peter Yacobucci, associate professor of political science at Buffalo State University, told The National.

“Pushing back the convention has an interesting effect on the primary,” Mr Yacobucci said, pointing out that Bernie Sanders could stand to benefit from the delay.

“This may allow more time for [Sanders supporters] to organise and challenge the nomination. I don’t expect Biden will be put off track, but it is possible.”

While both the Democratic and Republican conventions may seem like mostly pomp and pageantry, they serve a critical function, especially for the party looking to unseat a president providing an opportunity to unite possibly divided factions within the party behind shared ideas and a single nominee.

Instead of July, thousands of Democratic delegates will now gather just one week before Mr Trump will accept the nomination at the Republican convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Mr Yacobucci noted that while Mr Biden has come out strong against President Donald Trump’s handling of coronavirus, some Democrats were wondering why Mr Biden took so long to critique Mr Trump, whereas Mr Sanders had been more vocal initially.

Ultimately, Mr Yacobucci said the timing of the convention might not matter as much compared to the overall climate created by coronavirus.

“What really matters is how the country suffers and how the Trump Administration handles this,” he said.

By choosing Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the venue for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, the party is seeking to learn from 2016 election mistakes.

Many were surprised when Mr Trump won the state of Wisconsin in 2016, which hadn't been won by a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

It was one of several Midwestern states that flipped to Republicans in 2016.

Wisconsin in particular, is notable because Hillary Clinton’s campaign chose not to actively campaign there with early predicted a victory for her in the state.

Mr Yacobucci said it’s not a surprise that the DNC picked Milwaukee over other cities like Houston or Miami, which were also vying for an opportunity to host the convention.

“Wisconsin is a state that truly cost the Democrats in 2016 and there is a movement there to return it as a consistent backer of the Democratic Party in its own peculiar way,” he said, noting the unlikelihood of Democrats easily flipping a state like Texas.

Mr Yacobucci added that although some newer voices in the Democratic Party may have favoured choosing Houston or Miami due to demographic shifts in the US, the final choice of Milwaukee shows the more traditional Democratic leadership still has a lot of influence.

On the other side of the aisle, the Republican National Committee chose Charlotte, North Carolina as the site for the party’s 2020 convention, in part, Mr Yacobucci said, with hopes of keeping that state in Trump’s column, although it did back Barack Obama in 2008, and recently elected a Democratic Governor.

“The Republicans are looking to return North Carolina to a consistent Republican state,” he said.

Although it’s not uncommon for political parties to try and strategically pick presidential convention locations, Mr Yacobucci said there’s very little research that proves the location choice can actually influence election outcomes.

He did caution, however, that it’s not a choice that should be taken lightly.

“My intuition suggests it may increase local party supporter activism in the short term,” he added.

Indeed, with Mr Trump only winning Wisconsin by approximately 22,000 votes in 2016, Democrats are leaving no stone unturned and hoping that picking the state’s biggest city helps win back the White House.

All of this, however, doesn’t take into consideration just how much things have changed since the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s been ample criticism leveled at the White House’s response, but there seems to be no indication as to how much, if at all this will impact Trump when voters go to the polls in November.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez did not mince his words after announcing the delay of the convention from mid-July to mid-August.

“The Democratic Party is ready to defeat Donald Trump, the American people are ready to elect a Democratic president, and I have absolute confidence that our team is ready to deliver a successful convention for our nominee,” he wrote in news release outlining the party’s reasons for changing convention dates.

“Ultimately, the health and safety of our convention attendees and the people of Milwaukee is our top priority,” Mr Perez wrote, noting the seemingly lengthy challenges posed by Covid-19.

Democrats too, seem to be at the mercy of the pandemic, postponing their convention, and waiting to see how this all shakes out.