The coronavirus began to disrupt the Democratic presidential race Tuesday, as Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden canceled major rallies scheduled for Cleveland.
“Out of concern for public health and safety, we are canceling tonight’s rally in Cleveland,” said a statement from Sanders campaign spokesman Mike Casca. “We are heeding the public warnings from Ohio state officials, who have communicated concern about holding large, indoor events during the coronavirus outbreak.”
Biden's campaign followed suit a few minutes later in a statement from deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield.
"In accordance with guidance from public officials and out of an abundance of caution, our rally in Cleveland, Ohio tonight is canceled," she wrote. "We will continue to consult with public health officials and public health guidance and make announcements about future events."
Biden's campaign announced that instead of the rally, he would give a speech in Philadelphia.
The cancellation of the two rallies may portend other major changes ahead. Republican and Democratic officials are nervously looking toward their nominating conventions in the summer. If the threat of coronavirus has not subsided by then, those may have to be canceled or severely cut back, creating logistical chaos for the parties.
In a statement Tuesday, Joe Solmonese, the chief executive for the Democratic convention, said party officials were "developing a number of contingency plans to provide for a variety of scenarios."
"Ensuring the safety of convention attendees and local residents is — and will always remain — our top priority," he said. "We will continue to monitor this developing situation closely and follow the guidance of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and state and local health officials in the days and weeks ahead."
The changing nature of the campaign may have particular impact on Sanders. Rallies are the lifeblood of his campaign, and the gathering scheduled for Ohio was likely to be a big one.
Democratic voters in several states — including the big battleground of Michigan — will deliver their verdict Tuesday night in the race for the Democratic nomination in which Sanders and Biden are the remaining major candidates.
Polls do not signal a good night for Sanders. But the Vermont senator is showing no indication of backing down, and the Ohio rally was an opportunity to mobilize the Sanders base as he prepares for voting in that state next week.
“Sen. Sanders would like to express his regret to the thousands of Ohioans who had planned to attend the event tonight,” Casca’s statement said.
The coronavirus confronts political campaigns with all manner of challenges. Large public gatherings are being discouraged in many states, which could preclude candidates from hitting the stump as the race hits a crucial phase.
President Trump has — so far — vowed to continue to hold large political rallies for his own followers despite the risk they may pose.
Biden had previously said that he was cutting back on greeting supporters at his rallies because of advice from health officials about the virus.
"I’m not doing the rope lines like I used to," he said in an interview Monday night on MSNBC's "Last Word."
"It’s awfully hard" to hold back, the famously gregarious politician said.