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Empty stadiums and no babies to kiss? Coronavirus becomes 2020 ‘X Factor’

March 3, 2020

Fears of coronavirus are prompting soccer teams to play in empty stadiums in Italy. If the virus spreads, it’s not hard to imagine rallies for this year’s U.S. presidential campaign looking much the same, Politico reports.

Will the candidates—most of whom are age 70-plus—plucky enough to continue to enthusiastically dive into crowds to shake hands with potential voters, kiss babies, and organize selfie lines?

And will the American electorate show up? Not to mention the tens of thousand of people set to descend on Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Charlotte, North Carolina, this summer for the two major party conventions.

“There’s been nothing like this,” Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist based in New York, told Politico.

If the coronavirus spreads throughout the United States, he said, “We’re going to go through a period, obviously, where public health officials and experts are going to say no shaking hands, no public contact … We may be witnessing an era where television, or more so, social media, becomes the means to campaign in a coronavirus world.”

To most campaign observers, the likelihood of any widespread disruption of the primary remains dim. But if the virus does spread, the mechanical implications for campaigns could be profound.

In the case of an outbreak, Boyd Brown, a former South Carolina lawmaker and former Democratic National Committee member, told the political news outlet, “It’s going to be tough. I’m watching [TV] right now and they’re stoking fears, they’re coming live from face mask manufacturing facilities.”

In South Carolina this week, Mike Bloomberg said the “stock market’s falling apart because people are really worried, and they should be.” Joe Biden pointed to his experience helping respond to the Ebola epidemic, while Elizabeth Warren accused the White House of “absolutely bungling” its response to the disease.

At a breakfast in South Carolina on Friday, Bernie Sanders ripped into Trump, saying that instead of campaigning in the state, he should “worry about the coronavirus rather than disrupting the Democratic primary right here in South Carolina.”

Research contact: @politico