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story.lead_photo.caption Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the press at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

President Donald Trump calls himself a "wartime president" and former Vice President Joe Biden says the nation must "put politics aside," but both leaders have allowed their campaigns to launch deeply personal offensives against the other in recent days as they confront a likely general election clash before a nation grappling with a viral pandemic.

The face-off comes as much of the presidential campaign has been either put on hold or shifted online as the contenders retool for a new era of economic crisis and social distancing. Fundraisers have been postponed, rallies have been canceled, and new technologies are under consideration.

General election strategists have put new polls in the field and shuffled plans for spring advertising campaigns, even as Biden's sole challenger for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., remains in the race.

Democrats are hopeful that the crisis will put into sharp relief the arguments they have been making for months.

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Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Biden, said that the American people were seeing in the pandemic response the consequences of "the chaos around this president."

"There is a price that this nation pays for that behavior," Dunn said. "As we move forward that is going to be a case we prosecute."

Republicans, by contrast, are hopeful that Trump's role as head of the federal response to the novel coronavirus will insulate him against the coming Democratic critiques about his leadership. Trump has told advisers that his daily news conferences are helping him because they show him involved, and advisers are hoping to utilize the video footage of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praising the president in ads.

"Anybody who attempts to politicize and weaponize a public health crisis is revealed to be petty and peevish," said White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. "To criticize Trump now is to criticize public health officials, FEMA, first responders, private sector businesses that are all coming forward to help."

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Neither side has pulled its punches in near-daily diatribes.

Trump's campaign communications director accused Biden of pushing critiques of Trump that "dangerously undermine the federal public health effort by purposely sowing confusion and fear merely for the sake of politics."

Biden, who has refrained from criticizing Trump out of respect for the office, told reporters Friday that Trump "is falsely telling us he's taking action he has not taken, promising results he's not delivering and announcing actions that he has not even ordered."

Biden's campaign also released a digital video accusing Trump of adopting a "don't test, don't tell mind-set" that failed to prepare the nation for the coronavirus.

The campaign's immediate focus is on the policy response to the virus, but the political message focuses heavily on the Democratic case that Trump has mishandled the crises.

Biden released a statement Sunday night calling on Democrats in the Senate to reject the stimulus bill that is being promoted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"President Trump and Mitch McConnell are trying to put corporate bailouts ahead of families," Biden said, after the Senate rejected a procedural motion for the bill. "And it's simply wrong."

Trump campaign advisers do see some liability in how the president handled the opening days of the virus -- particularly in the lack of testing and the continuing slow response despite vocal pleas from overwhelmed hospitals. Some close to the president fear that if the stock market continues to drop -- and unemployment goes into the double digits -- it would be difficult to reelect the president who has cast his central argument as a booming economy.

Trump advisers have been cheered by recent public polling that finds more than half of the country approves of Trump's response to the crisis, a number far better than his typical approval numbers in polls. Some advisers say they believe the country will rally around the president during a crisis.

Information for this article was contributed by Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post.

A Section on 03/24/2020

Print Headline: Biden-Trump duel heats up amid virus fears


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