Coronavirus pandemic forces 2020 campaigns to shake up fundraising strategies

Biden, Trump moving toward virtual fundraisers and email campaigns

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The coronavirus pandemic has upended American life in almost every corner of the country, including bringing large-scale 2020 presidential campaigns to a halt and forcing a shift in how candidates typically raise money ahead of the expensive and grueling months to the November general election.

Although incumbent President Trump and Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, mostly continued to fundraise as normal throughout the first two months of the year, the candidates have been forced to adapt to strict social distancing guidelines imposed by the majority of states and cancel in-person events for the foreseeable future.

The two rivals are instead moving toward virtual fundraisers and email campaigns.

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"It’s no secret that our Nation was hit with a huge unforeseen challenge. We are in the midst of an all-out war with a dangerous invisible enemy,” a Trump campaign email sent to supporters last week said. Signed by the president, the email urges supporters to donate $35 in exchange for a “gold” Trump campaign membership card: “While I’m fighting for the safety of our Nation and its citizens, I need to know that you are fighting for me too.”

Biden, meanwhile, is scheduled to appear at a series of star-studded virtual fundraisers at the end of April along with guests like Kristin Chenoweth, Billie Jean King and Billy Porter. To become a co-host of the event, supporters need to pay $20,000, according to Page Six, which first reported the news. The cheapest ticket is $1,000.

The former vice president, who’s become increasingly critical of the Trump administration’s response to the dual health and economic crises, also held “virtual fireside chats” last week with former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Throughout April, Biden has six other virtual events scheduled alongside former Obama administration officials.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has started to hold video streams almost daily with prominent Trump surrogates and campaign officials.

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The Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee raised more than $212 million in the first quarter of 2020, according to figures released by the campaign. Since 2017, they have collectively raised more than $677 million. Their haul for March, even as the virus began to paralyze the nation’s economy, was more than $63 million. Democrats have yet to release their March totals.

“President Trump’s unyielding commitment to the American people has shown time and again that he is the president we need to lead our country through this crisis, and it’s clear that voters are responding to his bold leadership,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

It’s not just presidential campaigns impacted by the virus and the shutdown of large swaths of the U.S. economy.

In mid-March, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer, R-Minn., sent a memo to House Republicans urging them to be aware that “your donors may have suffered financial losses during this pandemic.”

Still, Emmer said that members can “sit down and make fundraising calls and touch base with donors asking how they are and how they are handling this crisis,” though he acknowledged that if the virus spread did not slow, “large gathering fundraisers, email solicitations and mail solicitations may need to be paused.”

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