Donald Trump received by hundreds of supporters on the tarmac of an airport. Joe Biden speaking in front of a dozen guests, kept at a distance in a parking lot: the two candidates for the White House are leading campaigns at the antipodes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But physical distancing is not hurting the Democrat, who is ahead of the US president in the polls for the November 3 election. For the moment.
“Since I practice physical distancing, I can remove my mask, I am told, while I speak. But I promise that I will put it back ”: Wednesday in Michigan, the former Democratic vice-president, 77, again claimed his respect for barrier gestures.
And too bad if his Republican rival is ironic about the precautions of the one he nicknamed “Joe the stashed”.
“How many families do not have their loved ones around the table tonight because of his failure” in the management of the pandemic, he launched about Donald Trump, deploring the heavy toll of more than 190,000 dead from COVID-19 in the United States.
“It’s more than shameful. It is a breach of his duties, “he continued in front of a handful of guests and a few journalists, in Warren near Detroit, the American cradle of the automobile.
Michigan will be one of those key states that can tip the election. Surprisingly, Donald Trump had won by a tiny advance in 2016. And he will be back Thursday night at Freeland.
If there are no longer the thousands of people who flocked to his meetings before the confinement, hundreds of supporters gather each time, in the open air, often in huge airport hangars.
Avoiding wearing the mask in public, Donald Trump, 74, will then travel to Shanksville, Pa. On Friday, like Joe Biden, to commemorate September 11, then travel to Nevada this weekend.
The organization of a rally in this western state, ruled by a Democrat, was the subject of a controversy on Wednesday, when the managers of a hangar canceled because it exceeded the limit of authorized people. to come together during the pandemic.
“Democrats are trying to prevent President Trump from speaking to voters because they know Joe Biden cannot compete with the enthusiasm behind his re-election campaign,” said its communications director, Tim Murtaugh.
The Democratic candidate could hardly “organize a campaign act in a broom closet,” he tackled.
Donald Trump’s strategy, “is to be as visible as possible and he sticks to it”, analyzes Tobe Berkovitz, professor specializing in political communication at Boston University.
As for the Democrat’s campaign team, “the more they can protect Biden, the better off they are,” he said. “It keeps him from making mistakes, from being asked tough questions.”
Especially since the rare press conferences of the septuagenarian, known for his blunders, are limited to a small group of reporters, often installed in marked circles on the ground, physical distancing requires.
The former right-hand man of Barack Obama leads Donald Trump with a comfortable lead in the national polls.
Above all, he is also ahead in the main key states, which will determine the winner by switching to one candidate or the other, but by an often tighter margin.
Hence the importance of convincing the undecided.
At the expense of “democracy”?
After months of confinement followed by very restricted travel, the Democrat but also his running mate Kamala Harris and his wife, Jill Biden, embarked on a much more intense travel rhythm last week.
Even if they do not speak to hundreds of supporters like Donald Trump, these campaign acts “receive the same amount of media coverage,” notes John Hudak of the US research center Brookings.
Those who mock Joe Biden’s precautions “are not going to vote for him anyway,” he analyzes, while those he must convince, especially independent voters, support according to opinion polls the gestures barriers.
Ultimately, given the polls, “voters clearly don’t hold it against Mr. Biden for the way he runs his campaign,” said Hudak. And it is above all the “president who must catch up with Biden”.
The Democrat’s strategy “is effective,” concedes Tobe Berkovitz.
“But I don’t think it serves democracy,” he adds. “Democracy should be an open debate, an exchange of ideas, candidates questioned by real voters, and that’s not what’s happening.”