Biden's lessons learned: spending time, money in Midwest

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Michigan State Fairgrounds in Novi, Mich., Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Joe Biden has visited Wisconsin just twice as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. That's still two more times than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

Even in a national political environment fundamentally altered by the coronavirus pandemic, the former vice president has paid far more attention to swing-voting Wisconsin and its pivotal neighbor Michigan than Clinton did during a campaign with no public health crisis or concerns about mass gatherings.

More than budgeting some of his carefully planned time, and certainly spending prodigiously more money on advertising, Biden's team also has attempted to correct Clinton's more glaring failure in the two states by reaching out directly to voters.

“When you don’t come and ask people for their vote, they feel like it doesn’t matter," said Karen Finney, a senior Clinton adviser who in retrospect says Clinton's campaign was more concerned with modeling voter behavior than reaching voters. Biden's "campaign is doing a better job, even during COVID, of reaching out with the candidates and a voter-to-voter effort. That makes a difference, and is an improvement."

Clinton's narrow losses in Wisconsin and Michigan — two states considered Democratic strongholds — were seen as punishment for neglect by her campaign. Besides spending no time in Wisconsin and only five days in Michigan, Clinton didn't begin advertising in either until two weeks before the election.

But, to be sure, Clinton also lost Pennsylvania just as narrowly although she campaigned there 11 times and spent $30 million in ads.

Biden's team studied the roots of Clinton's defeat.

“If we learned anything from 2016, it’s that we cannot underestimate Donald Trump or his ability to claw his way back into contention in the final days of a campaign," campaign manager Jennifer O'Malley Dillon wrote in a memo to donors last week.