AFP looks back at some of the moments when the pandemic upended the
contest, including Donald Trump’s hospitalization and how the party
conventions became virtual events.
– March: Biden goes quiet –
The pandemic robs Democratic candidate Joe Biden of one of his key
attributes: a personal connection with voters.
For two months he confines himself at home, in his basement in Delaware.
His Republican opponent and incumbent Donald Trump derides him as
“Sleepy Joe” and his campaign accuses Biden of “hiding” in his
But Biden stresses he is taking the kinds of precautions necessary,
and his approach later proves to be a stark contrast with Trump’s —
who will be harshly criticized for his downplaying of the illness.
– June: Trump’s indoor rally –
Looking to revive his campaign, Trump holds a large rally in Tulsa,
Oklahoma, on June 20. It is the first indoor political rally since the
start of the pandemic and is widely criticised.
The discovery of six positive cases in the organizing team on the
morning of the rally does not deter the plan to hold it.
Participants have their temperatures checked and masks are
distributed, but the majority of those attending the rally do so with
their faces uncovered.
Weeks after the rally, cases jump in Tulsa and local health
officials say it is “more than likely” that major events are a
– August: virtual conventions –
Democratic convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is cut down to a
two-hour event involving Zoom, video clips and pre-recorded messages
followed by silence, when usually there would be cheers and applause
from thousands of participants.
On August 25, keen to upstage his opponent, Trump appears in person
to inaugurate the Republican convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But after long resisting any change to conventions as big festive
occasions, Trump finally accepts a broadly virtual format, with the
exception of his appearance on the opening day.
– September: 200,000 dead –
On September 22, the US marks a grim milestone: topping 200,000
“Due to Donald Trump’s lies and incompetence in the past six
months, (we) have seen one of the gravest losses of American life in
history,” charges Biden.
Trump insists the US is already “rounding the corner” — while
betting on the swift approval of a vaccine.
– October: Trump gets Covid –
Then, on October 1, a bombshell just one month before the vote:
Trump announces he has tested positive for the virus.
The candidate who until then had toured the country and met
thousands of supporters, often without facemasks, is hospitalized and
his campaign grinds to a halt.
Trying to turn the president’s hospitalization to his advantage,
the Trump team claims it gives the Republican candidate first-hand
experience of the virus, something Biden does not have.
In the nine days Trump receives treatment in hospital, Biden is the
sole candidate and has the stage to himself and visits some
First Lady Melania Trump and the couple’s son Barron also are
infected, while Biden running mate Kamala Harris briefly puts her
campaign on hold when a staffer tests positive.
On October 10, Trump declares himself immune from Covid-19 despite
a lack of scientific clarity on the issue.
Eventually, a long list of people connected to the White House
contract the virus, from White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany to
former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Marc Short, Vice
President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.
– Debate canceled –
After Trump’s illness, a second debate between the two candidates
scheduled for October 15 is canceled when the president refuses to
participate in a virtual format.
The third and final scheduled debate goes ahead as planned on October 22.
– Virus relief package stalemate –
With the pandemic hitting a US economy that until then had been
flourishing, Trump is robbed of his key campaign issue.
The country in nine months has gone from full employment to a
jobless rate of 7.9 percent in September, having peaked at 14.7
percent in April.
Amid pre-election posturing, Congress reaches an impasse over a
fourth virus relief package designed to help millions of Americans.
Just five days before the election, figures show an annual growth
rate of 33.1 percent in the third quarter, but the jaw-dropping
statistic reflects the economy’s rebound from such a low base and
economists warn underlying factors do not bode well.