Biden campaign begins in-person canvassing in swing states

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The Democratic nominee’s decision to go door-to-door in an effort to reach those who had proven difficult to contact by phone or online follows concerns from some party officials and activist groups that Biden was ceding an advantage to President Donald Trump, whose campaign has been canvassing in-person for months.

“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,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement.

News that Biden would begin in-person canvassing was first reported by The Associated Press.

Biden’s campaign said its door-to-door efforts will follow safety measures, including providing volunteers with masks as well as checking their temperatures and completing a symptom questionnaire before sending them out. Those who live in a neighborhood will receive text messages alerting them that a volunteer is there and could be knocking on their doors.

In-person canvassing will be underway in Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania this weekend, and begin in other states next week, a senior Biden aide said.

The campaign had already piloted some in-person efforts, such as dropping off literature and chatting with those arriving at early voting locations in Pennsylvania and Nevada.

The aide said at least several hundred volunteers will be participating in in-person campaign activities, and that in Pennsylvania alone, more than 6,000 volunteers had expressed interest in doing in-person activities over the last 36 hours.

The campaign has opened 109 “supply centers” for volunteers in 17 battleground states, and plans to expand that to 188 centers.

The shift to in-person canvassing comes after some Democratic officials and party allies complained that Biden’s campaign — in an effort to minimize health risks during the pandemic — was missing a critical method of contacting potential voters.

D. Taylor, the president of Unite Here, the labor union that is the parent organization of the powerful Culinary Union in Las Vegas, said in a recent interview with CNN he had “encouraged everybody” to knock on doors.

“It’s a multilayer attempt when you have to get to voters: you have mail, you have phones, you have doors. Now, because you’re not going to have traditional rallies, unless you’re a jerk like Trump who endangers people, but you got to do all three. We’ve always viewed that as a three-legged stool, and if you take away one of those legs … it just makes it that much more difficult,” Taylor said.

He said during canvassing efforts in Arizona and Nevada, the union has encountered Latinos who need information on voting by mail and are concerned about the safety of absentee ballots after Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting.

“You have to walk them through that,” Taylor said. “He’s tried to undercut a basic tenet of democracy.”

Trump’s campaign responded to Biden’s reversal on door-knocking by asking what had changed since the summer, when Biden aides downplayed the need to meet voters in person and criticized Trump’s campaign for doing so during a pandemic that has left more than 200,000 Americans dead.

“Team Trump and the GOP have already knocked on about 19 million doors, leaving the Biden campaign about 19 million doors behind us,” Trump campaign spokesman Steve Guest said.

The first round of states were selected by the Biden campaign on a variety of metrics, including the competitiveness of the race, the rules for early voting and the rate of coronavirus cases in the state.

Several local Democratic organizations have already been going door-to-door — leaving information, not holding conversations — to advise people of voting deadlines.

In Michigan’s critical Macomb County, just north of Detroit, Democratic volunteers were stuffing bags on Thursday for a weekend canvassing session. They are specifically targeting the households of people who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election.

Ed Bruley, chairman of the Macomb County Democratic Party, said it was critical to reach these voters who were not motivated to vote for Hillary Clinton four years ago. He said volunteers would be instructed to simply leave a bag, including a roster of local, state and federal Democratic candidates, along with addresses and instructions for early voting. The plastic bags were personalized with a name, address and a small pumpkin.

“We drop it off and stay at a safe distance,” Bruley told CNN as he stuffed the bags this week at party headquarters in Mt. Clemons, Michigan. “We would not for the sake of politics put someone’s life at stake.”

CNN’s Gregory Krieg and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

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