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Biden campaign to resume in-person canvassing in key battleground states

The campaign had previously halted those traditional voter outreach efforts due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks after touring International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66 on Sept. 30, 2020, in New Alexandria, Pa.Andrew Harnik / AP

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign will resume door-to-door canvassing in several key battleground states, campaign officials told NBC News Thursday, marking a strategic shift by the campaign one month before Election Day.

Beginning this weekend, the Biden campaign will send out several hundred volunteers to reach voters in Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, with the efforts expanding, in a phased approach, to 17 battleground states, one official said.

The new approach is a significant change from the campaign’s previous tactics, although the campaign says the move represents an expansion of an already effective strategy.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Biden campaign had earlier this year halted traditional voter outreach efforts, instead relying almost entirely on phone and electronic communications like email and texting to engage voters.

The news was first reported by The Associated Press.

The Biden campaign confirmed to NBC News that it is expanding its voter outreach operation in all battleground states by adding door knocking, arguing that it is another way to meet voters where they are. Those in-person conversations will focus on voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts.

During a campaign briefing with reporters last month, senior campaign officials laid out their decision to have more of a presence on the ground by opening remote distribution centers to hand out literature, merchandise and yard signs. Of the 2,500 battleground staffers, some of those on the ground have been dropping literature off at doors but were instructed not to knock as it could present a coronavirus security risk.

Biden campaign surrogates, supporters and volunteers have been holding news conferences or socially-distant events in-person over the past several weeks, including in states that have loosened coronavirus restrictions like Florida.

For months, however, campaign officials have denied the need to go door-to-door, arguing that Biden's campaign had reached many more voters — 2.5 million as of last month — via the phone. Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in September that prioritizing phone calls and texting over in-person contacts has allowed campaign staff and volunteers to have longer, more substantive conversations.

“Fundamentally, knocking on a door and not reaching anyone doesn't get you much except leaving a piece of lip behind. You might as well send a piece of mail,” she said during a virtual Politico briefing last month, adding that the Republicans door-knocking metrics “doesn’t really matter.”

In a statement Thursday, O’Malley Dillon said the addition of door-knocking to the campaign's existing voter outreach efforts makes Biden's operation “the most innovative and technologically advanced” presidential campaign especially during an unprecedented pandemic.

“We're now expanding on our strategy in a targeted way that puts the safety of communities first and foremost and helps us mobilize voters who are harder to reach by phone now that we're in the final stretch and now that Americans are fully dialed-in and ready to make their voices heard,” she said in the statement.

The campaign said that the delay in integrating door knocking was largely due to a decision to thoroughly research and test the best way to safely prepare volunteers to do the task. According to the campaign, 6,000 volunteers in Pennsylvania, where polls show a close race and where where a partisan battle over ballot counting has already unfolded, indicated an interest in participating in in-person activities over the last 36 hours.

The campaign said it will also ramp up its in-person outreach in Michigan and in Florida this week, with volunteers asking students at the University of Michigan and a dozen campuses in Florida to register to vote and sign voting commitment cards.

Democrats in battleground states have in recent weeks sounded the alarm about the Biden campaign's digital-only outreach strategy, given that the Trump campaign has boasted for months about its ability to reach voters in person. The president's re-election campaign has claimed it's been knocking on 1 millions doors per week.

Democratic political strategists and state lawmakers in states like Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina also expressed concerns about Biden's schedule, underscoring what they said was the need for the former vice president to come and make his case in person — something voters told NBC News they wanted, too. Biden has ramped up his travel to key battlegrounds, making his first general election campaign trip to Ohio Wednesday after visiting North Carolina last week. He returns to Michigan Friday.

The latest NBC News national polling average shows Biden leading Trump 50 percent to 42.1 percent. Biden has also led Trump in polling in multiple battleground states. But as NBC News reported Thursday, there are signs Trump's ground operation is paying off when it comes to registering new voters in key states, an advantage that could become important if the race tightens before Nov. 3.

Door-to-door contact, according to studies, is the most effective way to mobilize voters.