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Coronavirus and the 2020 campaign: Former Barack Obama campaign manager explains what voters should expect

In town promoting a book, David Plouffe says even Democratic Convention could be in question

CLEVELAND — David Plouffe, the architect of Barack Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 presidential bids, says campaigning for now will largely be confined to phones, social media and even postcard writing.

“Big crowd rallies - they will be out for a while,” he said. “Trump says he still may do them. But I doubt that. Door to door canvassing. I don’t think a lot of people will be interested in that.”

Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders canceled their public rallies Tuesday night hours before they were supposed to address their supporters.

About next week’s Ohio primary, Plouffe said several unknowns remain.

“So far that is going on, but does it affect turnout, do poll workers show up.” he said.

Concerns about the coronavirus are also touching the biggest political party of the year, Plouffe said.

“There is an active discussion now about whether we will even have a Democratic convention in July in Milwaukee," he said.

Plouffe was at the Cuyahoga County Library’s Parma branch Thursday night promoting his book, “A Citizen’s Guide Beating Donald Trump.” 

He spoke to 3News in an exclusive interview before participating in a livestream interview the library arranged after cancelling his public speech. The library said it had more than 200 reservations to hear Plouffe speak at the branch’s auditorium. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has ordered large events be cancelled to avoid possible spread of COVID-19.

Plouffe said he expects the former vice president to become the party’s nominee. And, he added, that while Sanders trails in the race for delegates, his campaigning makes Biden stronger.

“I think Biden is going to be our nominee, and all signals say he will, and I think to give people confidence he has to show he can handle a two-way debate,” he said.   

Obama -- with Biden as his running mate --  won Ohio twice at a time the Buckeye State was still considered a critical battleground. As for Ohio today, Plouffe says it’s Trump’s to lose.

“Will Ohio be competitive?” he said “It makes me sad to say that right now, it is not. ” Trump is a great candidate for some of these counties both rural and ex-suburban.”

But President Trump’s response to the spread of the coronavirus and related economic downturn will weigh on voters’ minds.

“When the S-hits the fan, the public expects that no matter the party, no matter your agenda, you have to deal with it and be transparent and straight and move quickly and not downplay risk. And if we hit recession and he doesn’t handle that well, that could be even more profound.”

Plouffe said that despite a partisan political climate, voters can still be moved. He pointed to Ohio’s elections results as proof.  

“Most people’s minds can be changed, but enough of them can be to decide elections,” he said. “Just look at difference between 2012 and 2016 in Ohio. That wasn’t all base. Most of it was voters who voted for Obama who then voted for Trump.”

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