Coronavirus response represents a watershed week in the 2020 campaign

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden delivers remarks about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Hotel Du Pont March 12, 2020 in Wilmington, Del.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — This has been a week that has changed the trajectory of the 2020 election, as well as the trajectory for the entire nation.

The disruption from the spread of the coronavirus — and the political reaction to it — is certainly the biggest part of that change.

An economic recession now seems almost inevitable.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders got to contrast their leadership abilities with President Trump’s.

And as for Trump, the coronavirus plays into all of his weaknesses — blaming others, misstating facts, not leading by example and an inability to unite the country — and few of his strengths.

But the coronavirus isn’t the only thing that changed the 2020 race this week.

Joe Biden has taken absolute command of the race for the Democratic nomination, and the next two weeks of contests look even better for him.

And when it comes to the 2020 race for the Senate, Democrats convinced Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to jump into the state’s Senate contest, giving them a real pickup opportunity in that red state.

So the Senate is even more in play than it was a week ago.

At some point — we hope — the 2020 election will return to the center stage, with traditional campaigning, a focus on the daily polls, and your typical back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans.

And when that happens, Democrats will find themselves on higher ground than they were before.

Tweet of the day

Sanders — finally — wins California, per NBC News

On Thursday, NBC News projected Bernie Sanders the winner of California’s Democratic primary — nine days after it took place.

Other news organizations called it earlier, but NBC News waited to see the actual votes come in due to how slowly the state counts its ballots.

With 88 percent of the vote now in, Sanders leads Biden in California by 6.7 points, 34.3 percent to 27.6 percent.

Joe Biden currently holds a 153-delegate lead over Bernie Sanders in pledged delegates, 854 to 701, according to the count from NBC News’ Decision Desk.

Biden has won 51 percent of the pledged delegates that have been allocated so far, while Sanders has won 42 percent.

To reach the 1,991 pledged delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination on a first vote, Biden needs to win 50 percent of the remaining delegates.

Sanders needs to win 56 percent.

2020 Vision: Welcome to the virtual stage of the campaign

On the campaign trail today: Joe Biden holds a “virtual” get-out-the-vote for his campaign activities in Chicago — ahead of the Illinois primary on Tuesday. On Sunday, Biden and Sanders participate in their one-on-one debate at 8:00 pm ET from CNN’s studios in DC.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds: The word from all three active campaigns is the same: work from home and go virtual. President Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are all switching their 2020 activities to virtual, and their campaign staffers are now working from home, per NBC’s Monica Alba, Marianna Sotomayor and Gary Grumbach.

For Trump that means, “Trump Victory, the joint operation between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, will shift to ‘virtual’ events for volunteer-oriented gatherings, according to the GOP group.”

For Biden and Sanders, it goes even further, Sanders’ campaign will not have any staff working in offices, according to the campaign’s communications director. “In light of concerns about coronavirus and out of an abundance of caution for our staff, volunteers and supporters, the Sanders campaign has asked all staff to work from home and will no longer hold large events or door-to-door canvasses, instead moving to digital formats and outreach wherever possible.”

And the Biden campaign echoed that statement. All of Biden HQ staff will work from home for the “foreseeable future” and only plan to hold virtual campaign events and virtual fundraisers.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 44 points

44 points.

That’s Joe Biden’s lead over Bernie Sanders among likely Florida Democratic primary voters, according to a new poll from the University of North Florida.

The poll showed Biden as the top choice of 66 percent of likely voters, while just 22 percent backed Sanders.

The survey also found that Biden is the overwhelming choice of Florida Hispanics, with 65 percent naming the former vice president as their vote choice.

The primary is Tuesday, March 17.

The Lid: This or that?

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how Joe Biden’s speech on the coronavirus threat aimed to provide voters with a clear picture of how his administration’s leadership would be different than President Trump’s.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece traces the administration’s dramatic change in strategy as the coronavirus crisis worsened.

Here’s how the 2020 candidates are shifting to a virtual campaign.

Obama's economic adviser during the financial crisis warns fallout from coronavirus could be more serious.

The Dow had its worst day since 1987.

The Washington Post does a deep dive into the administration’s failed efforts to calm the nation through a presidential address.

The U.S. launched a strike on weapons facilities in Iraq in retaliation for a rocket attack that killed two American service members.

Trump Agenda: Stimulus package

The House is preparing to vote on a major coronavirus package.

An Australian official who met with Ivanka Trump and AG Bill Barr last week has tested positive.

Here’s what the CDC thinks the worst-case scenario in the U.S. could look like.

The Washington Post: “Many experts fault Trump’s latest solutions for coping with coronavirus.”

Many older Americans are calling the reaction to the virus overblown — even though they’re in one of the most high-risk groups.

2020: A virtual convention, too?

Bernie Sanders has been a consistent advocate for climate legislation in Congress. What he hasn’t done much of is compromise.

Some Democrats are urging the party to think about a virtual convention rather than a regular one.

Joe Biden had a slew of new fundraising events planned. That’s all gone out the window.