Joe Biden is coming to Florida ... kind of

The former vice president will hold virtual events in Tampa and Jacksonville, the campaign’s first attempt at local campaign ‘stops’ amid the pandemic
Former Vice President Joe Biden will hold virtual campaign stops Thursday in Jacksonville and Tampa.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will hold virtual campaign stops Thursday in Jacksonville and Tampa. [ MATT ROURKE | AP ]
Published May 5, 2020|Updated May 5, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden has chosen Florida as the backdrop to restart traditional campaign activity this week amid the coronavirus pandemic, but with a significant twist: It will all be virtual.

The campaign will hold two events Thursday aimed at supporters in Jacksonville and Tampa, Biden’s first attempt at engaging with local voters in a swing state since he became the presumptive nominee for president almost a month ago.

These events will mimic the hallmarks of traditional campaign stops, though Biden won’t step foot in Florida. Rather, Biden will video conference into the event from his home state of Delaware.

He’ll first meet with U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and state Sen. Audrey Gibson in Jacksonville for a round table discussion on the African American community. From there, Biden will beam into Tampa for a virtual rally with all the expected trappings: music, slick video presentations and speeches from local politicians and other special guests.

The Tampa rally begins at 5:15 p.m.

The choice of Florida to kickoff the next phase of this campaign underscores the state’s significance once again in the presidential election. It is the country’s largest battleground and recent polls indicate a tight race between Biden and President Donald Trump for the state’s 29 electoral college votes.

Related: Is COVID-19 hurting Trump’s popularity in Florida?

The ongoing pandemic has presented an unexpected and difficult challenge for Biden and Trump as they look ahead to a summer in which both campaigns may be grounded due to the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Trump has maintained almost daily visibility through his semi-regular White House briefings, but has been unable to augment those performances with the arena rallies that energize his base. Biden, meanwhile, has kept a lower profile as he has navigated this uncertain political terrain. The campaigns for both candidates have significantly scaled up their digital operations, though Trump had a four-year head start.

The events planned for Thursday signal a shift in approach for Biden, who to date has tried to reach supporters across the country through a podcast and virtual events aimed at a wider audience. In Jacksonville and Tampa, the Biden campaign is focusing the attention on two communities critical to winning Florida, similar to how candidates have stumped for president for decades.

The campaign will target Floridians in promoting the two events here, but anyone can watch the live stream.

Whether the campaign can effectively simulate local outreach remains to be seen. Biden’s team will test-drive the concept with former second lady Jill Biden on Wednesday in Michigan.