Delaware thrust into unlikely starring role in 2020 campaign

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A ceramic chef with and American Flag is seen in the window Angelo's Luncheonette, during lunch service in Wilmington, Del., Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. Angelo's Luncheonette has been a Wilmington fixture since August Muzzi's father, Angelo, first opened it 1967. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WILMINGTON, Del. – Delaware isn't a swing state. It has three electoral votes. Driving its entire length, from Pennsylvania to Maryland, takes only a little more than an hour and a half.

But the state has an unexpected starring role in the presidential race as the coronavirus keeps presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden away from traditional campaigning and close to home in his bid to unseat President Donald Trump in November.

Biden announced California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate this past week in Wilmington and they made their public debut at the suburban high school where Biden votes. The campaign then operated for three days from the opulent Hotel DuPont downtown, where Biden had announced his first run for Senate, for the 1972 race. In a ballroom converted to a makeshift web studio, Biden and Harris held video conferences with health and economic advisers and signed documents to formally become the Democratic presidential ticket.

“We’ve never had a campaign like this, where essentially he’s probably going to be campaigning from Wilmington because of COVID-19,” said John Flaherty, a Delaware open-government advocate who worked as a staff assistant for Biden in his Senate office in Wilmington from 1978 to 1995. “It’s going to be a learning curve for all of us as to how you campaign for national office and you can’t be close to people.”

There has never been an American president from Delaware, though Rutherford B. Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio.

The spotlight on Delaware could be even brighter if Biden is elected. In addition to his Wilmington home, his family has a beach house in Rehoboth Beach, which could become a summer retreat on par with George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas or Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Biden’s presence so far hasn’t caused much of a stir, partly because many people are still working from home or otherwise avoiding going out. Waiting at a bus stop near the Hotel DuPont, Cara Davis, a 23-year-old drug store employee, had no idea the political circus was in town.

“I think it’s a bit of a mess,” she said of November’s election. She added, however, that she once waited on Biden’s daughter, Ashley, while working at a department store makeup counter, and plans to vote for Biden because not doing so “is like a vote for Trump."