REPORT: Coronavirus turns China into 2020 election issue

NBC News reports when President Donald Trump’s super PAC released a TV ad campaign this week painting Joe Biden as soft on China, the apparent Democratic nominee’s campaign and outside allies immediately mobilized a full-court press to counter the attack.

Trump’s America First Action PAC announced a $10 million TV and digital ad buy Thursday in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, three states that put Trump in the White House by narrow margins in the Electoral College.

The group’s “Beijing Biden” ads herald Trump’s travel restrictions from China while declaring that “for 40 years, Joe Biden has been wrong about China,” spliced with ominous music, footage of Biden with President Xi Jinping and ending with insignia of the red and yellow Chinese flag on the Democrat’s face.

The Biden campaign rebutted it in videos from the former vice president and foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken, which hit Trump for eliminating U.S. pandemic preparedness resources and for praising China’s “efforts and transparency” in its virus response.

His campaign held a Friday call with reporters featuring Blinken and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The Democratic National Committee issued a memo saying it was Trump who “rolled over for China.”

And the pro-Biden super PAC American Bridge unveiled its own ad buy worth $15 million in the same three states featuring footage of Trump, at times standing with Xi, saying China was “doing a very good job” handling the crisis. A narrator accuses him of having “trusted China” when he shouldn’t have.

The back-and-forth shows the extent to which the deadly virus, which experts say originated in the city of Wuhan, has turned China into a powerful election-year issue, with both major party candidates scrambling to get on the right side. It isn’t just about outsourcing labor this time. It’s about an economic calamity and life-or-death consequences for voters looking to hold China accountable for allegedly concealing information about and failing to contain the virus.

The COVID-19 crisis has rocketed to the forefront of voter concerns as the official U.S. death toll tops 33,000 and sets up a battle over which candidate, Trump or Biden, can address public concerns about China as favorable opinions of the country nosedived in Gallup tracking polls.

Harris poll taken April 3-5 found that 72 percent of Americans believe China inaccurately reported the impacts of the coronavirus. It found that 69 percent favor Trump’s trade policies against China and most want him to take a tougher position with that nation. A majority of Americans even said China should be required to pay other countries to compensate for damage and suffering caused by the spread of the virus.

In the 2016 election, Trump successfully weaponized misgivings about China’s trade practices, insisting that previous U.S. presidents, including his opponent Hillary Clinton’s husband, had allowed the country to rip off Americans. He has slapped tariffs on Chinese products, which have at times drawn public resistance, in pursuit of overhauling trade relations with the country.

Trump’s strategy is to place a simple contrast in the minds of voters. In a recent fundraising email to supporters, he proclaimed, “I am TOUGH ON CHINA and Sleepy Joe Biden is WEAK ON CHINA.” His campaign has also highlighted past remarks from Biden questioning whether China represents serious economic “competition” for the U.S.

“China wants Sleepy Joe sooo badly,” the president tweeted Saturday. “They want all of those billions of dollars that they have been paying to the U.S. back, and much more. Joe is an easy mark, their DREAM CANDIDATE!”

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