Biden camp ramps up canvassing after avoiding in-person outreach amid pandemic

After avoiding in-person contact with voters for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is now launching direct canvassing outreach, including some traditional door knocks, in many of the key battleground states.

The move, announced Thursday by Biden’s team, comes with less than five weeks to go until Election Day on Nov. 3, and as early in-person and absentee voting is well underway in many states.


It also comes months after President Trump’s campaign resumed in-person canvassing, and amid increased concerns by some Democratic officials and organizers in the key swing states who worried that Biden’s campaign was unnecessarily ceding an advantage to Trump’s campaign and Republicans.

The Biden campaign up until just a couple of weeks ago had been exclusively relying on phone conversations and virtual outreach efforts.

In announcing the move, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon defended her team’s outreach efforts, stressing that “our voter contact operation is the most innovative and technologically advanced of any presidential campaign in history; and it has been thriving in this unprecedented environment – especially in terms of the most important metric: meaningful conversations with voters. This has been critical in putting us on offense against Trump in many states he won in 2016. Our volunteers are fired up and have exceeded every goal we’ve set.”

She then spotlighted that “we’re now expanding on our strategy in a targeted way that puts the safety of communities first and foremost and helps us mobilize voters who are harder to reach by phone now that we’re in the final stretch and now that Americans are fully dialed-in and ready to make their voices heard.”

Supporters greet Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden as he steps of the train at Amtrak's Alliance Train Station, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in Alliance, Ohio. Biden is on a train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania today. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Supporters greet Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden as he steps of the train at Amtrak’s Alliance Train Station, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in Alliance, Ohio. Biden is on a train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania today. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

But last month, O’Malley Dillon downplayed the significance of in-person canvassing, telling reporters from Fox News and other news organizations that “while you might hear our opponent spend a lot of time talking about the millions of door knocks or attempts that they’re making week to week, those metrics actually don’t have any impact on reaching voters.”

At the time, she spotlighted that the Biden campaign’s “metric of success, the numbers we look at and use, are conversations.”

And a month earlier, after the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) touted that they had knocked on 1 million doors in a week, Democratic National Committee (DNC) War Room senior spokesperson Lily Adams took to Twitter to argue that “the Trump campaign is risking the lives of their staff, the lives of voters, and risking becoming a super spreader organization during the middle of a pandemic. Sounds in line with how Trump is running the country.”


Responding to the Biden campaign’s Thursday announcement, RNC rapid response director Steve Guest spotlighted that “Team Trump and the GOP have already knocked on about 19 million doors, leaving the Biden campaign about 19 million doors behind us. Joe Biden’s campaign is trying to shoestring together a ground game with less than 33 days to go, but it’s too little, too late.”

Guest claimed that “nothing can change the fact Team Trump and the RNC have a massive infrastructure designed to reelect President Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot that has been in place for years.”

The Biden campaign says they’ve already resumed literature drops in Pennsylvania and Nevada – and that for the last couple of weeks they’ve had over a hundred supply centers open in all of the battleground states.

The campaign said that literature drops would expand this weekend to Michigan and Pennsylvania with other swing states soon following early next week. The campaign noted that the reception to in-person canvassing – particularly in Pennsylvania – has been strong and that they’ve had 6,000 volunteers say in the past 36 hours that they’re interested in doing in-person activities.

A veteran Democratic and labor organizer said even in a world now dominated by social media, old-fashioned canvassing and door knocks are still extremely effective.

“The most important thing for Joe Biden right now is to maximize the turnout of people who normally don’t vote but if they do, will vote Democratic,” said Kurt Ehrenberg, a senior adviser in New Hampshire on both of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns. “Any way that is done is vital to the campaign, as long as it gets done. Door to door is the most effective.”

Ehrenberg stressed that “there is no question the most effective means of organizing is one person talking to another person. It’s all the better in person.”

The Biden campaign told Fox News that staffers and volunteers involved in person-to-person canvassing will be given personal protective equipment, including masks, and they will have their temperatures monitored. The campaign also said it plans to text message voters to expect a knock at their door before volunteers come to their neighborhoods.

Fox News’ Tara Prindiville contributed to this report

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