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Jill Biden’s virtual Albany visit highlights Democrat’s Georgia strategy

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, and his wife Jill attend a primary election night rally Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, and his wife Jill attend a primary election night rally Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez

Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez

In the middle of a virtual coffee meetup on Thursday with medical workers in Albany, Judith Hatch had a question for the wife of the presumptive Democratic nominee: Did she have advice for health care workers seeking better unemployment benefits?

Jill Biden’s answer to the chiropractor’s query was straightforward, and it reflects her husband’s approach to a pandemic that has injected more unpredictability into an already volatile campaign against President Donald Trump.

“The best remedy that I have: elect Joe Biden president. Because things will change once Joe’s president. Because he honors the people on the front lines. He will take care of you,” she said. “He’ll take Obamacare and build on it – take away the things that didn’t work, but build on those that did.”

It was the first of three virtual meetings that Biden’s campaign scheduled across Georgia on Thursday, a part of the Democrat’s effort to keep up a traditional campaign at a time when many in-person events are impossible.

The online visits were scheduled after Biden's campaign announced that Georgia, Arizona and Texas were among its top 2020 targets – a goal met with derision by Republicans. U.S. Sen. David Perdue said Republicans must remember "we can't take this fight against liberal Democrats for granted."

Democrats haven’t carried Georgia in a presidential election since Bill Clinton’s 1992 election, but Trump’s 5-point win in 2016 and Gov. Brian Kemp’s even narrower victory two years ago has given partisans hope that newfound success in the suburbs can help them flip the state.

And unlike in 2016, when both Trump and Hillary Clinton largely ignored Georgia, Democrats promise to devote more attention to the state this year. The dual U.S. Senate races and competitive House contests add even more incentive for both parties to commit talent and treasure here.

Trump's campaign has also rapidly pivoted to a digital-only operation. He has more than 70 staffers in Georgia, surpassing Biden in sheer number of personnel, and many who planned to engage in door-to-door canvassing were quickly retrained in the art of contacting voters by phone or online meetings.

The power of incumbency also affords the administration an advantage. Vice President Mike Pence will command intense media attention in Georgia on Friday with plans for a sit-down meeting with Gov. Brian Kemp and a roundtable discussion with restaurant executives about the state's response to the pandemic.

“Even transitioning to a virtual campaign, our Georgia team hasn’t missed a beat in contacting voters, and Georgians will remember all that President Trump has delivered for them this November,” said Savannah Viar, a spokeswoman for Trump’s Georgia campaign.

Signs point to a tight race. A string of Republican internal polls obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month shows a close contest between Biden and Trump in Georgia, echoing national surveys that gives the former vice president the advantage.

Still, some of Biden’s supporters have raised concerns that he hasn’t been aggressive enough to counter Trump’s message during a pandemic that’s turned the general election campaign upside down.

With remote campaigning now the campaign’s norm, Jill Biden has become one of her husband’s most important surrogates. Her string of Georgia events (from the couple’s Delaware home) came after a three-stop online tour of Colorado on Tuesday and events in other competitive states this month.

At the virtual meetup on Thursday, she joined several local medical workers and party officials from Albany, a Democratic stronghold that was the epicenter of a deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Throughout the event, she emphasized that her husband would prepare the U.S. for the next healthcare crisis and bring progressive leadership to a hurting nation.

“We have a little over five months to work as hard as we can. I see so much inequity out there, whether in healthcare or education or the criminal justice system or environmental justice,” she said. “We have to change things, and the only way is if Joe wins on November 3.”

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