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Coronavirus crisis explodes before the Illinois primary: Biden campaign tells staffers to work from home

The Sunday debate between Biden and Sanders has been moved from Phoenix to the CNN studios in Washington because of the coronarvirus crisis.

Candidate Joe Biden Delivers Remarks On Coronavirus Outbreak
Former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the coronavirus outbreak at the Hotel Du Pont, Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

With the coronavirus crisis exploding before the Tuesday Illinois primary, Joe Biden’s campaign announced on Thursday that all staffers — from national headquarters in Philadelphia to the Illinois outposts — will work from home, according to an internal memo obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

There will also be no actual Biden fundraising events for now, the memo said. Two had been set for Friday in Chicago.

“The Vice President believes that we have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership and be proactive in our steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to reduce the demand on our public health system so first responders and health care providers can protect and care for individuals at highest risk of serious health outcomes,” the memo said.

“Starting Saturday, March 14, all Biden for President offices — including headquarters and field offices — will be closed to the public. Our campaign will continue to organize voters across the country through phone banking, text messaging, virtual events, and other distributed organizing models,” said the memo, signed by senior adviser Anita Dunn and Jen O’Malley Dillon, tapped Thursday to be the new campaign manager.

Dillon was the deputy campaign manager for former President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012. In 2009, Obama named O’Malley Dillon his first executive director of the Democratic National Committee. She also managed Beto O’Rourke’s short-lived 2020 presidential campaign.

The switch was made as the Biden campaign is growing more confident that Biden will be the presidential nominee, and the operation has to ramp up to be ready to take on President Donald Trump.

This new coronavirus reality is presenting a challenge to campaigns, usually using the last weekend before election day to rally supporters.

With the coronavirus spreading, Biden’s campaign canceled a Friday rally in Chicago and is recalibrating how to deploy its turnout troops.

Biden’s campaign said instead of the rally, it will hold a “virtual” event, a telephone town hall hosted by Biden, to start at 4 p.m. CT. There was no estimate available by the campaign on Thursday of how many people would be on the line.

According to the memo, “At this time, guidance remains that small gatherings are safe to continue if those with known exposure to COVID-19 do not participate. We will continue to hold smaller events like round tables, house parties, and press statements, as well as virtual events, like tomorrow’s virtual town hall. All of our fundraisers will become virtual fundraisers indefinitely, and continue to be open to pooled press.”

The Sanders campaign is also scrapping campaign events because of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Sunday one-on-one debate between Biden and Sanders has been moved from Phoenix to the CNN studios in Washington. Both Biden, the former vice president, and Sanders, the Vermont independent senator, delivered speeches Thursday deploring Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

The change is being made “Out of an abundance of caution and in order to reduce cross-country travel, all parties have decided that the best path forward is to hold Sunday’s debate at CNN’s studio in Washington, D.C., with no live audience,” DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement.

Claudia Chavez, the Biden Illinois state director, said they are scrambling to check in with volunteers hosting their own phone banks and people hosting Sunday debate watch parties.

“The campaign has been using a lot of different digital tools,” Chavez told the Sun-Times on Thursday. The new circumstance “allows us to expand and be creative…we just have to be creative on what we do going forward.”

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Thursday became the latest elected official from Illinois to endorse Biden.

He said in a statement, “Joe is the one candidate with a history of standing up to the gun lobby when others have been afraid to do so. ... Importantly, he understands the need to invest in evidence-based interventions to take on the daily urban violence experienced in places like Chicago, Rockford, Peoria, Springfield and East St. Louis.

Focusing on Chicago, the Biden campaign on Thursday launched Spanish language ads; one focusing on Biden’s record on gun safety; the other dealing with Biden and the coronavirus threat.

The campaign also unveiled the endorsements of a group of Chicago area African American ministers, including Dr. Byron Brazier of the Apostolic Church of God; Pastor James Brooks of Harmony Community Church; and the Rev. Al Sampson.

FOOTNOTE: Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is up for reelection this Tuesday, has canceled all political public events, including his fundraisers, in “an effort to minimize health risks.”