At around 6:30 on Wednesday evening, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, held up a cup filled with liquid, as if to offer a virtual cheers to viewers isolated behind their screens without saying it.
The drink was Gatorade, because, as a state representative from Pennsylvania who introduced Biden during his campaign’s first digital happy hour reminded attendees, the former vice president does not imbibe.
“I'm probably the only Irishman you know who’s never had a drink,” Biden said, just minutes into the event that lasted over an hour. Without much else to do while cooped up at home, others made good use of the adult beverages they have been stocking up on as bars and restaurants remain locked down for coronavirus.
“Send me your Happy Hour selfies folks and let’s settle in for some real talk with
@JoeBiden and some amazing young folks!” Symone Sanders, a senior adviser, tweeted, holding up a picture of apple juice and white Hennessy “with a side of policy.”
By nature of being remote, it’s unclear exactly how many people who participated in Biden’s dusktime event—billed as a “live, virtual roundtable on the issues young Americans care about”—were drinking, aside from the stray pictures posted of various concoctions like the “Biden Blue Quarentini” (Powerade on the rocks).
But as millions of people remain at home under government advisories to socially distance, a virtual happy hour is hardly a far fetched idea for a campaign trying to engage from afar. In fact, it’s just one of several ways Team Biden has spiced up their playbook as Covid-19 continues to reshape the nature of running for president.
Many of those ideas endeavor to cast septuagenarian Biden in a fresh new light.
Twelve days out from the infamous “am I on camera?” incident, which Biden asked earnestly during his first remote town hall, the former vice president and his campaign have taken steps to advance technologically, as President Trump continues to dominate the national conversation with his daily press briefings on the pandemic.
Democrats pleaded, for months, that Biden’s campaign needed to do better, cautioning that he could get creamed by Trump in November if certain digital improvements weren’t made in time.
Now, those tweaks are starting to come to fruition. Over the past several days, his team has been publicly and privately touting their digital efforts, the latest indication that they view the first few steps as successful building blocks for the campaign in uncertain times. On Thursday evening, his campaign released tallies of their progress, noting 16 million video views across platforms, six videos with 1 million or more views, and 900,000 live viewers on Wednesday’s streaming events, which included, in part, a press briefing and happy hour.
After the happy hour, for example, when a tech reporter wrote that the event was “a complete 180 from his campaign's first flubby Zoom call,” several members of Biden’s press shop endorsed the comment with a retweet. “.@joebiden smartly putting that smart new studio to use—>,” Lis Smith, a rival communications adviser for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has since endorsed Biden, tweeted at another juncture. Biden staffers were also happy to promote the praise.
Before that happened, the first step was creating the right infrastructure by building a makeshift TV studio in Biden’s home basement in Wilmington, Delaware, where he has held regular press briefings to counter the president’s own. More often than not, he takes several questions from reporters. “So am I,” Biden said candidly during one recent briefing, genuinely connecting with a reporter who unremarkably mentioned she’s just sitting at home like the rest of the campaign press corps.
Those efforts have expanded in recent days. On Tuesday, Biden dialed into ABC’s “The View,” a female-centered daytime program that has been famously friendly to him for the past several years.
“We should be focusing on surging data, surging equipment, surging testing, surging all this information and all this capability around the country,” Biden said. “That's the first and foremost thing we should be doing instead of waiting around.” The same day, he also made the cable news rounds, appearing on MSNBC and CNN, aiming to show himself to those wondering about his whereabouts, with staffers promoting the hashtag #HereIsJoe. On Thursday evening, he’ll appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night program for a “minilogue from home.”
But it’s not entirely a flashy effort. Biden’s campaign launched a newsletter this week, complete with a “Hey Joe!” section for readers to submit questions about seemingly any topic. He hopes to send it out “regularly,” he said in the first edition. The 77-year-old Democrat also recently contributed a piece to Crooked Media, a company “dedicated to providing a no-bullshit conversation about politics in culture” that appeals largely to younger, progressive readers.
“America’s young people have had a rough run of it lately,” he started off a post on Wednesday titled, Protecting Our Future After Coronavirus. “We need to make sure that our economic recovery does not come at the expense of those who can least afford it or who are just getting started in life: Hard-working young people in service industries and retail that are being decimated by layoffs; all those who are hustling to make a living in the gig economy,” he wrote.
“Hustling” in the “gig economy”—two concepts young people saddled with debt and still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crash are all too familiar with—is a phrase Biden has grown fond of lately, using it during his youth happy hour the same day the post went live.
His effort to appeal to young voters comes as his only rival left in the Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), consistently performed well with that group. Despite winning overwhelmingly during Super Tuesday, Biden lost voters under 30 consistently, and lost voters under 45 by record margins in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, the following contests. But as Sanders struggles to keep his campaign going amid calls to drop out, Biden has seized an opportunity to make inroads with the same voting bloc.
“The youngest people in America have the greatest deal of anxiety,” Biden said during his virtual roundtable on Wednesday night. “We need to do a lot more than we’re doing now.” Addressing the threat of the virus specifically, he added: “Just because you’re under the age of 60, doesn’t mean you’re immune.”
Biden’s also recently pushed out policy proposals with younger voters in mind, like forgiveness for crippling student loan debt. He recently called for “at least 10,000 in student loan forgiveness now,” in the height of the pandemic, and adopted portions of Sanders’ own Senate bill to make public colleges and universities tuition free for families making under $125,000.
“We must not allow this pandemic to rob young people and the economic futures they’ve been trying to build,” he said from his basement studio.