Biden wins big endorsements but gets little air time
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Confined to his home to respect anti-virus measures and facing an accusation of sexual assault, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden is finding it hard to get his message across in a country laser-focused on the health crisis.
The former vice president has won a series of major endorsements -- the latest came from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday -- but has had to rely on late-night appearances and virtual town halls to make his voice heard.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is front and center every day as the nation combats the global pandemic and haltingly moves down the path to reopening the economy.
Is it time for the Democrats to worry? Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, says no.
"Biden wants to make this election more of a referendum on Trump," Kondik told AFP.
"That Trump dominates the news while Biden doesn't is not a problem for this kind of strategy, because Trump's domination of the news is not at this point broadening Trump's own level of support."
Indeed, in her endorsement, Pelosi hailed Biden as a man of "empathy, grace and courage" and "a leader with the humility to seek expertise in science and the confidence to act on it" -- a pointed bid to draw a contrast with Trump.
"As we face coronavirus, Joe Biden has been a voice of reason and resilience with a clear path to lead us out of this crisis," she said.
- Democrats rally behind Biden -
More than 2,500 lawmakers, officials and community leaders have rallied behind Biden, his campaign team said Monday.
Of course, the biggest endorsement of them all came from Biden's former boss Barack Obama, who is still extremely popular among Democrats.
He also won the backing of his former rivals, including leading progressives senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Biden will not be officially designated as the Democratic Party's candidate until its convention, postponed to August, and the early rally to the cause by party grandees is rare.
Hillary Clinton was not declared the candidate until June 2016.
But the advantage Biden might have earned -- especially in terms of making up fundraising ground against Trump -- has been effectively neutralized by the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden is locked down at his home in Delaware, where he built a makeshift studio in his basement for his television appearances. He even launched a podcast.
On campaigning in a more traditional way, a Biden advisor told AFP: "He would very much enjoy that if it was at all possible right now, but we are always careful to follow the guidance of health officials."
But Trump is everywhere in the media, in large part thanks to his daily virus briefings over the past month. Even other Democrats like Pelosi and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are getting more air time.
And Trump's Republicans are openly mocking Biden, saying he seems to be a hostage in his own home.
Of course, the incumbent's briefings are not always registered in the win column, as last week's disastrous statements about injecting disinfectant have shown.
- Accusation -
Biden has more than his relative absence from the headlines to tackle -- a former staffer has accused him of sexually assaulting her years ago, a claim his team firmly denies.
Tara Reade, who had previously accused the 77-year-old of unwanted touching, expanded on her claims in March, saying he assaulted her in August 1993.
In the past month, she has repeated her story to several media outlets, and has reportedly filed a complaint with Washington police, which does not name Biden.
"This absolutely did not happen," Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said on April 13. "It is untrue."
The campaign has not made any new statements on the issue since that time. When AFP asked on Monday for comment, the team referred to the past statement.
Other women have accused Biden of touching or embracing them inappropriately in the past, and Reade's initial claims were similar -- less severe than her most recent allegations.
The New York Times reported that it had interviewed Reade on multiple occasions, along with her friends and others who worked for Biden in the early 1990s.
According to the Times, no former Biden staffers corroborated her account, and a pattern of misconduct was not uncovered.
A friend said Reade had told her about the alleged assault at the time. A second friend said Reade told her in 2008 of a traumatic experience while working in Biden's office.
Reade said she had also related the incident to her brother.
More than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct before he became president, including a writer who claims he raped her in a Manhattan department store.