Campaigning for president during the coronavirus pandemic has candidates rethinking strategies

The University of Notre Dame withdrew Monday as a host of the first of three presidential debates between presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Trump, citing constraints due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Commission on Presidential Debates said instead, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, plans to host the first presidential debate September 29 with the Cleveland Clinic overseeing any health precautions. A vice-presidential debate will be held in Salt Lake City on October 7th. Two more presidential debates will be held in Miami October 15 and Nashville on October 22.

For both parties, campaigning during the COVID pandemic is complicated.

"I think people are trying to make a blueprint as they go along with campaigning," said Ken Syring, who was elected to be a San Francisco Biden delegate for the DNC convention in Milwaukee August 17-22. Syring says he is still excited about the convention, even though it is going virtual, with delegates now charging up their laptops instead of packing their bags.

"I do miss seeing people," said Syring, but he adds that he appreciates that the DNC and Biden are trying to protect the delegates' health and says, "I'm looking forward to meeting other delegates about the hopes we have for the future."

In the meantime, President Trump has indicated that he intends to travel to North Carolina for the RNC business meeting is expected to formally nominate him.

Contra Costa County Republican Party Chair and political consultant Matt Shupe says he's had many conversations with people figuring out how to campaign.

"For the first month or two, basically all campaign activity came to a screeching halt," said Shupe. He says Republican activists are looking into new ways of connecting with voters, "You can stand six feet away from the door, wear a mask and be respectful of the person if they consent to that. Otherwise, there's still phone banking, peer-to-peer texting and digital advertising. But it is definitely a different environment in the pandemic."

Virtual meetings by video conferencing have become common. San Francisco's Democratic Party has its next event Thursday online.

Even fundraising events have gone virtual to allow for socially distancing, eschewing the typically handshakes and photo ops for online events.

"We're still rethinking what this campaign is going to be looking like over the next couple months. we're already doing the virtual phone banks," said Jane Kim, the former Chair of the Bernie Sanders Campaign and DNC Platform Committee Member.

Kim says campaigns are learning that going virtual has some advantages.  

"It's lowered the cost of entry to hear speakers like Obama to fund-raise for Biden. These are events that may have been more difficult for the average Democrat to attend, but because they are online, the price point has gone down and the access has increased," said Kim.

Bernie Sanders organizers and other groups within the Democratic party are still expected to speak out at the virtual convention, trying to influence the party platform.

As Biden approaches August and his expected announcement of a female running mate, Sanders supporters are rallying for Congresswoman Karen Bass of California to be the vice-presidential nominee, while others in the party are supporting California Senator Kamala Harris, former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice, or Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida.

A CBS News poll Monday found Biden with support of 51 percent of likely voters. President Trump is backed by 41 percent. The poll also found that 4 percent of likely voters said they are undecided. An additional 4 percent said they would vote for someone else or a third-party candidate.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter@JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana