Biden, Sanders take ‘virtual’ aim at Tuesday voter turnout in Illinois

People are prodded by campaigns to vote in person at a time when everyone else is advising us to stay home as the cornonavirus spreads.

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Democratic presidential hopefuls former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with an elbow greeting before the start of the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

With Illinois grinding to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic — everything except the Tuesday Illinois primary — voters, campaigns and election authorities are facing historic and first-time challenges. We’ve never, ever, experienced something like this.

Almost all the voter contact over the weekend for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in Illinois was virtual, whether via apps, video conferences, calls to phones, texts or emails.

People in these final days are being prodded by campaigns to get out to vote in person — early, on Monday or Tuesday — at a time when everyone else is advising us to stay home as infections from the virus spreads.

When Joe Biden 9th Congressional District delegate candidate Jill Wine-Banks early voted Sunday in Evanston, she brought her own pen to sign-in and wore protective gloves to avoid skin contact with the touchscreen.

Banks, an MSNBC analyst whose memoir, “The Watergate Girl,” was just published, advised, “either bring Lysol wipes or wear rubber gloves so that you are not touching the screen and then throw the gloves away. But it’s important to get out the vote,” she said.

Sanders and Biden met in their first one-on-one debate Sunday night — I’m writing this before the CNN-Univision showdown — and Jill Biden headlined a  “virtual” pre-debate watch party, targeting women in the four states voting Tuesday: Illinois, Arizona, Florida and Ohio.

Her comments were keyed to the coronavirus crisis. “We need to vote. We need to elect a president who can be a kind, steady and courageous leader…We can build a better nation if we do it together.”

On the call, Illinois Biden Director Claudia Chavez, speaking from the West Loop, noted that local election and health officials have been taking “precautions” as the numbers of coronavirus cases in Illinois swell.

Jill Biden is also headlining an Illinois get out the vote call to Illinois volunteers Monday with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

Former Vice President Biden is the frontrunner in Illinois and is expected to claim the lion’s share of pledged elected delegates Tuesday and close down a path forward for Sanders, the Vermont Independent senator. That is, unless he stumbles in the debate.

The strength of the Sanders campaign has always been its highly networked supporters. The quick transition to a virtual campaign was not difficult for the Sanders team.

The Sanders campaign said in a statement Sunday it was “ramping up its remote organizing program, making calls to more than 170,000 Illinoisans in a single day since the campaign shifted its organizing capacity to remote and digital formats. The campaign in Illinois received more than 1,000 sign-ups for remote volunteer shifts in response to the campaign’s move to remote organizing.”

Bernie 2020 Illinois Field Director Gabriel Gold Hodgkin, who was working from his home in Bridgeport on Sunday, told the Chicago Sun-Times that when it came to coronavirus-related voting logistical concerns, “We are in an unprecedented moment. It is pretty much impossible to predict a whole lot. But what we are focused on is what we can control, which is organizing,” with supporters “stepping up in this moment of crisis.”

Voters may find polling places switched because of the coronavirus-sparked election chaos. He said they were “working hard” to keep their voters informed of where to vote.

For Sanders, the under-30 vote is crucial.

On Sunday, hours before the debate started, Biden extended olive branches, embracing signature Sanders and Elizabeth Warren issues.

Biden said he backs a plan to revise the bankruptcy laws proposed by Warren, the Massachusetts senator who dropped her 2020 Democratic primary without endorsing Sanders or Biden.  The change would allow student loan debt to be wiped out in a bankruptcy, just like other debts.

Biden also agreed to back proposals to make public college tuition-free – but only for families with income below $125,000.

Operatives I talked to said they expected a lower than usual coronavirus primary turnout. Gov. J.B. Pritzker on CNN Sunday night predicted a “very robust” vote  — with a boost from social distancing since he does not expect a lot of people in a polling place all at one time.

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