Biden and Trump’s post-Super Tuesday campaign schedules are a study in contrasts

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CNN
 — 

Joe Biden has been to every top battleground state but one since the Super Tuesday primaries. He has also been on unannounced calls pushing negotiators toward a Gaza ceasefire, among other official White House duties.

Donald Trump has held one rally in a battleground state in those two and a half weeks, and shifted another to Ohio, in part to save on costs. He has also played in two golf tournaments at his Palm Beach golf club, among other activities at his club, like lunches with potential campaign donors that aides feel are about to start paying off big.

The two oldest presidential candidates ever are always touchy about any mention of their own stamina or acuity. And they’re each eager to take shots at the other about who’s sleepy and who can keep up.

But the two weeks since they essentially wrapped up their nominations show very different bets being placed so far – and the very different challenges they face.

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Already this year, both men have shown reason to doubt the value of traditional campaigning: Biden won the New Hampshire primary as a write-in candidate while refusing to visit because of a dispute with the state over the timing of its election. Trump steamrolled his opposition despite being the candidate who spent the least time on the ground.

With two candidates this well known in a country more polarized than ever, no one knows how much campaigning will matter this year, especially with political operatives across the spectrum trying to figure out what tactics still work post-pandemic.

But the contrast in the past two weeks has been stark.

Biden is in the midst of his most intense period of in-person campaigning since before Covid-19 shut down the 2020 primaries, just as he was clinching the Democratic nomination four years ago. He’s on a post-State of the Union sprint that will culminate with a fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York next week, where former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are expected to help him pull off what several involved believe may become the single biggest fundraising event ever.

For Biden, all this activity is a very deliberate flex, designed to build off his hard-swinging State of the Union address as a way of allaying concerns among majorities of voters – and many Democratic leaders themselves – that he is not up to a second term.

Aside from his ongoing court appearances, which he’s chosen to make, Trump has remained almost entirely behind closed doors in Palm Beach, trying to drum up his lagging campaign fundraising and strategize about how to pay the $454 million bond he’s been ordered to pay after the judge in his New York civil fraud trial found that he and his company had lied about their assets for years.

After months of the president being attacked for his light schedule, Biden’s aides are eager to point out the contrast.

“Calling whatever Donald Trump is doing a ‘campaign’ might be generous, because hiding at his country club while calling for cuts to Social Security or calling into white supremacist radio hosts to spew antisemitic stereotypes isn’t exactly an effort to reach the hearts and minds of the American people,” said Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa.

That’s left Trump aides trying to pull apart the appearances Biden has been making, like on Wednesday when campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung issued a statement accusing the president of being “bored” in the middle of an Arizona event. In the latest attempt to portray Biden as senile, Cheung said he was “distracted by a mother and her baby. He isn’t all there, folks!”

Biden explained when he got to the microphone that he had been drawn in by a baby in the crowd.

“Well, folks, I have to tell you straight up: I like y’all, but I couldn’t resist that little baby,” he said.

Contrast over presidential trappings

With a current and former president running against each other for the first time since 1892, every part of both their campaign schedules has at least a tinge of official duties. For the better part of a year, Biden’s trips to tout new projects funded by the government have very conveniently been almost entirely in battleground states, and when he lands he comes with all the trappings of Air Force One. Trump has often tried to keep up presidential appearances of his own on the private jet that he and aides like to call “Trump Force One.”

Sometimes that has put them in parallel spots – like when they both made trips to the Mexican border at the end of February. But in the past two weeks, they have also leaned into their statesman sway with foreign leaders they have invited to see them.

Biden has hosted the president of Poland at the White House to reinvigorate the case for more funding to Ukraine, and he turned the traditional St. Patrick’s Day welcoming of the Irish taoiseach last weekend into an afternoonlong fete. Trump hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at his Mar-a-Lago home, which sources described as a friendly meeting that ended with Trump praising the authoritarian to members of his Mar-a-Lago club at a tribute concert.

White House aides point out that Biden’s public schedule only captures a fraction of what he is doing each day, with one source familiar saying that he has continued to be very deep in the details on issues ranging from policy proposals in the State of the Union to sorting through personnel. Even out on the campaign trail, said one source familiar, he is still reviewing a thick briefing book each evening and coming back with questions. Another pointed out that Biden, after prepping late into the night for days,  stayed so late greeting lawmakers after the State of the Union that the lights in the House chamber started to be turned off.

“He basically now has two jobs and he used to just have one – and that was a pretty big job,” a Biden adviser said.

“There are a lot of people who can’t keep up with Joe Biden,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.

The “events” page of Trump’s campaign site is currently empty, with a note reading, “No events scheduled.”

Trump’s days: donor meetings, golf tournaments, trial dates

Trump aides say his schedule has been jumbled by the number of court appearances he’s been making across his many trials – appearances, it should be noted, that are not mandated by the courts. After spending one day last week in court in Florida in his trial over hoarding classified documents, next Monday was supposed to be the first day of the New York trial related to hush money payments to an adult film actress. Trump was slated to attend, but after the judge delayed the trial, he will instead attend a related hearing in Manhattan that day.

After officially securing the Republican nomination on March 12, Trump held one rally in Georgia and one in Ohio to campaign for Senate candidate Bernie Moreno ahead of the primary. Trump doesn’t feel in any danger of losing a state that he won by 8 points in both 2016 and 2020, but sources involved with the campaign told CNN they worried about a potential embarrassment had his endorsed candidate lost the primary. (Moreno won Tuesday night.)

Trump’s days are largely spent on the golf course at Trump International, where he competed in the Club Championship last week, mingled with members, and has occasionally been hosting donors and allies for lunch. He has played golf at least one other time in that period, though usually not with those he’s hitting up for campaign cash. “His golf is too sacred” for that, one person told CNN.

But he has spent many recent evenings hosting donors for dinner at his Mar-a-Lago club, as well as attending various private events at the resort, including a fundraiser for the Palm Beach County Republican Party and a member’s wedding.

Trump’s advisers have insisted that the lull in the campaign trail was a reset before they launch into the general election. But they acknowledge there was a definite need to spend time fundraising and courting donors. Many on Trump’s team expressed a feeling of relief in recent days, however, after his securing of the nomination was met with signed checks from Republican donors.

Battling it out in battleground states

Biden goes to Pennsylvania – which he flipped from Trump in 2020 – so often that it’s become a joke among reporters and an occasional annoyance to local Democratic leaders who have had to choose between upending their schedules to be with him or answering for why they stood him up. Trump has been to the state once this year, for a National Rifle Association convention in Harrisburg at the beginning of February. Before that, he was last there for a rally in Erie in the fall. And while advisers insist he will be prioritizing the state ahead of November, there is nothing currently on the schedule.

The contrast is even starker in Wisconsin – another state that swung from Trump to Biden. Vice President Kamala Harris recently visited a home in Madison where she had lived for a few years as a child and talked about how she always felt connected to the state. And Biden was in Milwaukee last week to announce $36 million for a new bridge, open a campaign office and spend the night. Before that, he was last there in January to announce funding for a different bridge that connects part of the state to Minnesota, also drawn from the infrastructure law funding.

Trump’s last visit to the state: August 5, 2022.

Even leading Wisconsin Democrats have been surprised when told how long ago Trump’s last visit was.

“In the 2020 election cycle, Trump visited Wisconsin 16 times. Then he lost, his favorite candidate for governor lost, and his favorite candidate for Supreme Court lost in a landslide,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler. “Now, since August of 2022, Trump has visited Wisconsin zero times. To quote the classic film ‘Dodgeball,’ it’s a bold strategy. Let’s see if it pays off for him.”

On Wednesday, Biden was in Arizona to announce $8.5 billion going toward a new Intel chip processing plant outside of Phoenix, returning to a state he visited twice in the second half of last year. Trump had been looking at a trip to the state – which went for Biden by just 10,457 votes in 2020 – for last weekend, the same day as his Ohio rally. But those plans were scrapped after clinching the presidential nomination, with two sources citing a desire to save money and attend a more politically advantageous event in Ohio rallying for Moreno.

But that means that Trump’s last trip to Arizona remains October 9, 2022.

People involved in the planning say Trump is expected to be back on the campaign trail within the next two weeks, with likely stops in targeted battleground states. Aides have also been looking at a wider strategy of deploying top officials and other surrogates as they wait for him to make a decision on a running mate.

And Trump intends to stage a mix of events where Republican officials and other dignitaries come to him, either at his Mar-a-Lago resort or during his summer stay in Bedminster, New Jersey, a Trump adviser says, as well as trips to battleground states.

Trump has never needed to board an airplane to fill the void.

Though he has conducted all of his recent interviews from Mar-a-Lago with largely sympathetic media, many of his public statements have kept him in the news through cycles of outrage he is an expert in riding out. His growing number of legal battles – with indictments and hearings and trial appearances – have also kept him in the spotlight, filling hours of unpaid media.

Biden is counting on getting a bump from local press coverage as he pops into states to announce new funding and projects. He has done more interviews than Trump, though because they have been with local media and have provoked less outrage, they have not generated the same kind of attention.

But he’s looking to step that up some. Biden has asked senior aides to give him a running list of Trump’s extreme comments, according to a source close to the campaign, and will inject new criticism into his stump in real time. Among the examples cited by the person: Trump’s claims that immigrants are poisoning the blood of Americans, his suggestions about cutting Social Security and his praise for authoritarians.

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.

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