“TAMPA” — Weeks after all but clinching the Democratic nomination, Vice President Joe Biden returned to the presidential trail Thursday with a pair of virtual events in Florida, home to 29 crucial electoral votes.
There were internet issues.
The first event featured a discussion with African American leaders from Jacksonville. That one was not broadcast. Considering what happened next in Tampa, that might have been a smart move.
The 5:15 p.m. “virtual rally” ostensibly set in Tampa streamed live on YouTube. Sort of.
Biden’s campaign tried to make the e-rally feel as close to a normal political celebration as possible. A Tampa DJ played warm-up music between speakers. A Jesuit High School student read the pledge of allegiance from what appeared to be his home.
But the livestream of the rally was beset by technological failures. Speakers, including U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, and State Sen. Janet Cruz, appeared pixelated. Their feeds were visibly delayed as if they were transmitting from Afghanistan, not Tampa Bay.
At one point, the stream cut to black with no audio for several minutes.
Finally, 40 minutes into the rally, Biden was introduced. And what an entrance.
A full-seven seconds after his introduction, Biden appeared, not moving. As he leaned against a wall, Biden sported his trademark aviators.
He then walked up the camera, still wearing the shades. It sounded like he said “Just me?” as he looked off camera. Next, he walked up closer. “Now?”
Plucking off his glasses, Biden then addressed the “crowd:”
“Thanks so much for tuning in.”
Even Biden seemed to acknowledge the absurdity of a rally “in” a place, the internet, that has no location.
“I wish we could have done this together and it had gone a little more smoothly,” Biden said, looking into the camera. "But, ha, I’m grateful that we’re able to connect virtually.”
But the glitches continued. And some were Biden’s. He thanks Castor, but it sounded like he called her “Rep. Castro.”
Biden tried in his short speech to highlight some of the myriad policy differences between President Donald Trump and himself. For example, the Trump administration is currently fighting a court battle to dismantle what remains of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Biden noted that he has proposed adding a public health insurance option to the marketplaces set up under the Affordable Care Act.
Last year, Florida led the United States in Affordable Care Act signups.
The former Vice President also dedicated a significant portion of his address bashing Trump for his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. At one point, Biden said that Trump’s claim about the widespread availability of testing was a “bald faced lie.”
"There is no indication whatsoever that he understands the depth of the pain and the loss that this pandemic has caused,” Biden said of the president.
But once the speech ended, it was only a matter of time before Republicans pounced.
“Problem with @JoeBiden is you can’t tell if it’s a bad feed during his virtual Tampa “rally” or if he just sounds that way,” The Republican Party of Florida’s account tweeted seconds after the event.
“Joe Biden’s ‘virtual rally’ was a fundamentally unserious comedy of errors that displayed the depths of his campaign’s incompetency," Trump Victory spokeswoman Emma Vaughn emailed minutes afterward. "If he can’t run a livestream, how can we expect him to run our country?”
With the coronavirus and its associated economic devastation dominating the headlines for weeks, Biden has struggled to stay in the spotlight as Trump has ruled the airwaves.
Thursday’s Tampa virtual rally did nothing to change this dynamic for the Biden campaign.
Still, a RealClearPolitics average of Florida polling shows Biden leading Trump by about 3 points in the state on average. But many of the polls included in that average are weeks old.