The latest October surprise — Kamala Harris is off the campaign trail because two people involved in her campaign tested positive for COVID-19 — has both positives and negatives for Democrats, political experts said Thursday.
On one hand, it could emphasize that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his campaign are taking the coronavirus seriously.
“It could help the campaign because it’s being consistent with Biden’s message,” said Susan Roberts, a professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina.
At the same time, it temporarily robs the campaign of Harris’ personal touch in crucial states in these final weeks of the campaign. Harris plans to resume in-person campaigning Monday.
“Every time a candidate shows up, it helps generate enthusiasm,” said Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute, which polls nationwide.
Harris, the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, and Joe Biden have long preached the value of wearing masks and taking careful steps to avoid contact with the coronavirus.
Harris, a California Democrat, this week was one of the few senators who did not attend in person the Judiciary Committee hearing on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
The senator, who participated remotely, expressed concern whether adequate steps had been taken to protect participants from the virus.
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been hosting rallies where many supporters have not worn masks. He held a rally in Greenville, N.C., Thursday.
“We extend our best wishes, which is more than they did to me, but that’s OK,” he said of Harris.
Trump contracted the virus earlier this month, spent time in the hospital, and has resumed his work and campaign activity.
Harris was scheduled to visit Charlotte and Asheville, N.C., Thursday to help mobilize voters as the state began early voting.
North Carolina is a critical state in the presidential election. Trump won the state with 49.9% of the vote in 2016, but a New York Times-Siena poll released Wednesday said Biden was up 46% to 42%.
One loss for Harris: She won’t get the media coverage she would have received had she attended. She planned instead to host a virtual event Thursday evening with North Carolina voters.
“Her role is to keep the base engaged and voter turnout up. So it’s a bit of a hit for the campaign, but probably not a major one,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Poll, which had Biden up 49%-46% in its Oct. 8-11 North Carolina poll.
With early voting, added Levy, people can watch coverage on television and instantly decide to go and vote.
But Harris’ caution is a reminder “how careful” the Democratic candidates have been about the coronavirus, said Roberts.
Harris was due to head to Cleveland Friday, where she was to campaign in another big swing state. Trump won Ohio with 51.8% in 2016.
The Harris campaign learned about positive tests late Wednesday. Liz Allen, Harris’ communications director, and an unnamed in-flight, non-staff crew member tested positive.
Harris was not in close contact as defined by the Centers for Disease Control with either person during the two days before the positive test, according to a campaign statement. As a result, there is no requirement for her to quarantine, the campaign said.
Still, “out of an abundance of caution and in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution, we are canceling Senator Harris’s travel through Sunday, October 18, but she will keep a robust and aggressive schedule of virtual campaign activities to reach voters all across the country during this time,” said Jen O’Malley Dillion, the Biden campaign manager, in a statement.
“This is the sort of conduct we have continuously modeled in this campaign,” she said.
Neither Allen nor the flight crew member have had contact with Biden, Harris or other staff members in the 48 hours since testing positive, Dillon said.
“After being with Senator Harris, both individuals attended personal, non-campaign events in the past week,” Dillon said.
“Under our campaign’s strict health protocols, both individuals had to be tested before returning to their work with the campaign from these personal events.”
They were both on a flight with Harris Oct. 8. Harris and the two who tested positive wore an N95 mask during the flight.
Dillon said Harris was not within six feet of either person for more than 15 minutes, and before and after the flight, both people tested negative.
Since then, Harris has taken two PCR tests — a type of diagnostic test that can detect the virus — most recently on Wednesday and they have been negative.
The campaign also cancelled travel Thursday for Doug Emhoff, Harris’ husband. He has taken three PCR tests since October 8 and all have been negative. Emhoff plans to resume campaigning Friday, when he travels to Nebraska.
Biden has not curtailed his campaign activity. Thursday afternoon, the campaign learned as part of its contact tracing that an administrative member of the aviation company that charters Biden’s plane tested positive for the virus.
“Vice President Biden was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with this individual at any time,” Dillon said. “In fact, the vice president did not even have passing contact: this individual was over 50 feet from VP Biden at all times, entered and exited the aircraft from a rear entrance, and both the individual and the vice president wore masks for the entire flight.”