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Biden Campaign Reaches Out To Voters Via Phone Or Text. Will It be Enough?


The Trump campaign claims to knock on a million doors a week. The Biden campaign hasn't knocked on any doors for months. Instead, it has focused on outreach by phone and text. But the big unknown, as NPR's Asma Khalid reports, is whether any of that is as effective as pounding the pavement.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: When you ask Democrats why they're not door-knocking, they say they don't want to risk getting people sick in a pandemic. But Republicans are doing this work. Joe Biden's campaign manager, Jen O'Malley Dillon, tried to downplay the divide in a call with reporters the other day.


JEN O'MALLEY DILLON: While you might hear our opponents spend a lot of time talking about the millions of door knocks or attempts that they're making week to week, those metrics actually don't have any impact on reaching voters.

KHALID: She says Democrats are focused on quality conversations.


DILLON: That's virtual, that's over the phone, that's over the text, that is in person when that is safe and is warranted.

KHALID: The Biden campaign says in August, it had 2.6 million conversations with voters in battleground states. But day-to-day organizing is just not the same for a bunch of left-leaning groups supporting Biden. At this point in 2016, Working America was having about 100,000 conversations a week with people on their front porches. They've had none since March.

MATT MORRISON: Door-knocking is in our DNA. We believe that there is nothing - and the evidence supports this - that is as effective as a well-deployed, face-to-face interaction.

KHALID: Matt Morrison is the executive director.

MORRISON: That said, what we've lost in texture and interaction face to face, we've tried to make up for in scale.

KHALID: Working America has built an army of volunteers writing letters and sending texts. And Morrison thinks it's working. Republicans say they're also contacting millions over the phone each week, but nothing can really replace face-to-face interaction.

JOE GRUTERS: Everything is one side, though, on the ground.

KHALID: That's Joe Gruters. He's the chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

GRUTERS: We're doing our mini-rallies. We're doing the bus tours. We're doing meet-and-greets. You know, it's a - we're doing in-person. The difference is, is there's no opposition on the other side.

KHALID: Democrats think what Republicans are doing is irresponsible. Molly Ritner is Biden's deputy states director.

MOLLY RITNER: We think that what voters are looking for right now is responsible leadership, and that comes from the VP and what he's saying, but it also comes from the campaign.

KHALID: Plus, she says, because of the pandemic, many more Americans are at home on their phones these days.

RITNER: What we're finding is that we are able to actually connect and reach more people than we have been in previous cycles through the phone.

KHALID: The Trump campaign says the Biden campaign is fighting a, quote, "air war" while it is investing in a muscular field operation. The Trump team requires its staffers to read this book about Barack Obama's ground game. And one of the authors is Hahrie Han, a professor at Johns Hopkins.

HAHRIE HAN: So the Trump campaign, they read the book, and then they say, OK. Like, I need to go out and have conversations with people at the door. Like, yes, that is a part of it, but it's part of a bigger interlocking system. You know, there is a sense in which on a field side, in some ways, the work that is the most important can often be the most invisible.

KHALID: What she means by that is that she's not sure the Trump campaign understands that Obama's team was adept at building relationships before they even got to the door. Political scientists agree that knocking on doors is a proven way to marginally boost turnout. But really, David Broockman from the University of California, Berkeley says, even in a normal campaign year, the vast majority of Americans will never get a knock on their door.

DAVID BROOCKMAN: Just knocking on a door doesn't turn out a voter. It's having a conversation with a voter that turns out a voter.

KHALID: And, Broockman says, you can have that conversation over the phone. In fact, you can probably have more of them because, he points out, you save time. You don't have to walk between houses. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.