The School of Media and Public Affairs hosted a discussion on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the upcoming 2020 presidential election Friday.
C-SPAN senior executive producer Steve Scully and Karen Finney, who has worked with 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, led the conversation on a live Zoom call with about 20 students and faculty. The speakers discussed who they think Joe Biden should pick as his running mate and the electability of the 2020 presidential candidates amid the coronavirus outbreak and sexual assault allegations.
In case you missed the event, here are some of the highlights:
Biden’s pick for vice president
Finney and Scully said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., appears to be the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nomination. Harris dropped out of the running to be the Democratic 2020 presidential nominee last December.
Finney said Abrams and Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., would also be good picks for Biden’s running mate. She said Biden’s vice presidential pick should be a black woman because the party has relied on black women as their voter base.
“The Democratic Party has been saying that black women are the backbone for so long that it is time to put deeds to words,” Finney said.
Scully said a ticket with Biden and Michelle Obama would be “unbeatable” because of Obama’s name recognition and popularity, even though the former first lady has publicly rejected the possibility.
“She says she doesn’t want it,” Scully said. “I take her at her word. But if I were Joe Biden, I would get up every day trying to figure out how to get Michelle Obama on the ticket.”
The impact of COVID on Trump’s reelection
Scully and Finney, who both serve as SMPA Distinguished Terker Fellows, disagreed on Trump’s reelection chances.
Scully said Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and the current state of the economy have hurt the president’s chances in 2020. Trump would have been harder to beat two months ago with a strong economy and low unemployment numbers, Scully said.
He compared the 2020 presidential election to the 1980 election, in which Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter dealt with the Iran Hostage Crisis and a weakened economy while running against Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, who won the election.
“People have a lot of doubts about Donald Trump,” Scully said. “But they need to make sure that Biden is the person that can take over because the economy is so bad – we have the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression.”
Finney said the pandemic could also help Trump’s reelection chances because he has branded himself as a “wartime president,” likening the pandemic to a war.
“Wartime presidents win reelection, and you want to rally around the president in a time of crisis,” she said.
Sexual assault allegations against Biden
Scully said he doesn’t believe former Senate aide Tara Reade’s accusations against Biden will affect the campaign given Reade’s inconsistent recounting of her assault.
Biden has faced allegations of inappropriate touching and sexual harassment both before and during his presidential bid.
Finney, who serves on the board of feminist advocacy group UltraViolet, said she believes all survivors should be heard but is unsure if the allegations are true.
“As Vice President Biden himself said, ‘you’ve got to follow the facts,’” Finney said. “And he has made it very clear that it didn’t happen and that it’s not true. And I think the voters will have to decide for themselves how they feel about that.”
Finney said believing women and believing in due process for both the accused and the accuser are not mutually exclusive.
“You can say ‘believe women’ and say that there ought to be a fair process both for the accused and the accuser,” she said. “I mean, we know with sexual assault the way you remember trauma is not linear – it tends to be in patches. But the kind of discrepancies that we’re hearing here are pretty dramatic.”