By MOLLY NAGLE and KENDALL KARSON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The marathon presidential race that began for former vice president Joe Biden more than 450 days ago now enters a crucial stretch — the final 100 days until election day in a campaign that continues to be tested by the coronavirus.
Biden’s sprint towards Election Day comes as he establishes himself as the polling frontrunner in hypothetical matchups with President Donald Trump — as a parallel race to be his running mate is quickly approaching its end.
In the coming weeks, Biden is expected to name the woman who will join him on the ticket, as the months-long vetting process enters its final stages, with sources familiar with the process suggesting an announcement could come as soon as the first week of August.
Biden’s vice presidential search committee, charged with vetting a diverse group of female contenders, has begun an additional round of meetings with some of the candidates, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the vetting process as the former vice president is expected to pare down the list for his “personal discussions” with finalists.
Earlier this week, Biden offered some of the most substantive details about the process, revealing that the committee, composed of four co-chairs — former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; and Cynthia C. Hogan, former White House and Senate counsel to Biden — has briefed him on at least four candidates.
“When I get all the vetting done of all the candidates then I’m going to narrow the list. And then we’ll see — and then I’m going to have personal discussions with each of the candidates who are left,” Biden said of his vice presidential search.
Biden also confirmed that there are four African American women still in contention for the position — an indication his list may be narrowing — as Sen. Kamala Harris, Reps. Karen Bass and Val Demings, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former national security advisor Susan Rice were all speculated to be on the list for the number two spot.
In a separate, local interview this week, Biden also confirmed that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is still under consideration.
But since the death of George Floyd in May, which sparked nationwide unrest over racial inequality and pushed the debate over racial injustice into the center of the political sphere, Biden has faced mounting pressure to choose an African American woman as his running mate, particularly after his campaign was revived by the overwhelming support from African American voters in the South Carolina primary.
Still, Biden has refused to publicly concede to the pressure, noting that he is not basing his decision on any one criteria. His choice, he said, will take into consideration a number of factors — first and foremost, if the candidates can step into the role of president on day one and if they are “simpatico” with his own views.
“Black women supported me my entire career. You all act like all of a sudden there’s an epiphany in South Carolina,” Biden said. “They’re the ones, as that old saying goes, that brought me to the dance. I have been loyal, they’ve been loyal to me.”
Biden has previously said he intends to make his selection before the Democratic National Convention, which is slated for Aug. 17 through Aug. 20, leaving a three-week period for Biden to conclude his vetting and roll out his pick.
Biden, VP pick to kick off general election at transformed convention
Once Biden formally names his vice presidential pick, a decision that could potentially boost his electoral fortunes across the battleground map, the two will officially mark the start of the general election battle at the Democratic National Convention, the culminating event of a hard-fought primary season that historically has been a moment to project party unity.
In his own re-election bid, however, Trump abruptly canceled the fanfare that was expected for his convention speech in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday, citing both safety concerns and the mood of the country.
“I think we’re gonna do it well, and I’ll still do a convention speech in a different form, but we won’t do a big, crowded convention per se. It’s just not the right time for that,” Trump told reporters during a coronavirus briefing at the White House on Thursday.
Despite more than 4 million cases of COVID and fatalities from the virus approaching 150,000 in the United States with Wisconsin setting records for new daily cases of the virus, Democrats are still moving forward as planned with their quadrennial gathering in Milwaukee.
But circumstances brought on by the pandemic and Trump’s surprise announcement added pressure and raises new questionsabout the safety of Democrats’ own gathering.
Tom Perez, chair of the DNC, immediately sought to stamp those out, touting the DNC’s official decision in June to transition to a significantly down-sized convention with a mix of virtual and Milwaukee-based events.
“Unlike Trump, we followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and worked through plans to protect lives. That’s how we made the decision to hold a responsible convention,” he said.
Perez also reiterated on Friday, the day after Trump’s announcement, that the national convention is still set to be “anchored in Milwaukee,” with Biden accepting the nomination in person as planned.
“The Democratic Convention is going to have a lot less people at it and we’ve been following the science,” he said on SiriusXM’s “The Joe Madison Show” on Friday. “We have told our delegates to the convention that they can vote remotely, that they shouldn’t come to Milwaukee. We are anchored in Milwaukee and…the vice president will accept the nomination from Milwaukee.”
Biden’s speech is expected to be before a scaled-back room without delegates, the party’s most faithful, packed into the hall or raucous fights on the convention floor.
State delegations were told by organizers, who consulted with health experts, that they should no longer plan to travel to Wisconsin and should plan to conduct official business for the convention remotely.
Earlier this month, Democrats’ plans were scaled back even further, when a senior advisor to the convention informed members of Congress not to travel to Milwaukee either as concerns over coronavirus persisted.
But organizers behind the Democrats’ convention have yet to release details on who exactly will be in the audience for Biden’s speech and what the crowd size will be. The party also has yet to announce details on the plans for satellite locations that are expected to be weaved into each night’s programming.
In May, DNC rule-makers passed a measure to allow for remote voting at the convention and it was ultimately approved by the full committee.
Delegates will begin virtual voting two weeks before the August convention, on Aug. 3 and have until Aug. 15 to complete the ballot, which includes the party’s platform, among things. All the votes will be tallied at once on Aug. 15, instead of on a rolling basis.
While the voting will open for delegates in a little over a week, a vice presidential nominee will not be on the ballot, not tying Biden to a hard deadline for choosing one, according to a Democratic official.
The next 100 days amid COVID-19
As Biden enters the next 100 days, he leads in both national and battleground state polling, with recent polls showing the former vice president with a double-digit lead in critical states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan — four of the 17 states the campaign had marked as part of their path to 270 in November.
According to ABC News’ initial ratings for the 2020 general election, Biden currently holds a small but not insurmountable lead over Trump on the electoral map, with 279 electoral votes leaning or solidly voting Democratic, compared to the 187 votes leaning or solidly Republican. Still, another 72 electoral votes are rated as toss-ups at this point in the race.
The Biden campaign will face the challenge of maintaining its electoral lead as COVID-19 puts constraints on the traditional campaigning of candidates crisscrossing the country at a frantic pace, drawing large crowds and meeting with supporters in those critical states.
Biden acknowledged that the uncertainty of COVID means the campaign will likely continue to rely on virtual campaigning, or the limited local events as his team has held since the beginning of June to reach and motivate voters to the polls in November.
“I hope we’re able to do in-person campaigning, but the way the president is dealing with this virus is making it hard to think we’re going to be able to do that,” Biden said in a local interview earlier this week.
“Meanwhile, we’re going to continue aggressively to campaign, to meet voters where they are in their homes,” he said.
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