Biden to go after Trump in November in Republican states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia, campaign says

Former vice president Joe Biden is planning to compete against President Donald Trump in traditionally Republican states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia as his campaign bulks up in size and turns to a general election made highly unpredictable by the coronavirus.

"We believe that there will be battleground states that have never been battleground states before," said Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, Biden's campaign manager, on a call with reporters Friday. "We feel like the map is really favoring us if you as you look to recent polling."

Biden's campaign said it will also compete in other states like Iowa and Ohio that Hillary Clinton lost by large margins in 2016.

The campaign's public announcement of targets - which some Democrats feel are overly ambitious - is driven by what they see as weaknesses for Trump that have only been magnified by his response to the virus. It comes after weeks of criticism from Democrats, who worry Biden isn't being aggressive enough.

The campaign held a similar call Friday that attracted more than 100 surrogates, including former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley and former Florida senator Bill Nelson, according to a person familiar with it.

The back-to-back briefings come as some high profile Democratic leaders are openly fretting that a homebound Biden is failing to get his message across via virtual events - and appeared designed to assuage those concerns.

Biden's staff, on the call with reporters Friday, frequently pointed to national polling and surveys in battleground states that give Biden an edge. Recent public polls in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin show Biden leading. Trump is beating Biden by small margins in Iowa and Texas.

Biden senior adviser Mike Donilon said that during a national crisis, a sitting president usually sees a big jump in the polls."That didn't happen" with Trump, he said. "The numbers for governor skyrocketed. The numbers for leaders around the world skyrocketed. They didn't skyrocket for Trump."

Biden, at this point, is also making a point of not engaging with Trump on every attack that he makes, assuming that in the midst of a massive national emergency voters are less interested in a back-and-forth between candidates and more in getting help.

"We have a job in terms of meeting these attacks but not letting them overwhelm the campaign," Donilon said.

Donilon called that "a fundamental factor in this election."

He stressed that there's a strong Biden brand in the minds of voters, pointng out that Trump has been attacking Biden for a year already with little impact. "People have a really good understanding who Joe Biden is," Donilon said. "And that has been an underestimated part about him in this race."

The Trump campaign is intent on eroding that, and Tim Murtaugh, Trump's campaign communications director said in a statement that Biden is moving too far to the left to be palatable to the kinds of voters that the Biden campaign needs to expand the map and win.

And, using an attack that was effective in defeating Hillary Clinton, he said Biden's vote for the NAFTA trade deal would anger voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas "or anywhere else people care about good jobs."

He signaled that Trump's campaign will make up ground in Florida by pushing Biden's role in thawing relations with Cuba and Venezuela.

"The American economy reached unprecedented heights under President Trump before it was artificially interrupted by the coronavirus and he will build it back up a second time," Murtaugh said. "Americans know that President Trump has been leading the nation in fighting the coronavirus and they also know that Joe Biden has been nothing but a political crank, lobbing counterproductive criticisms from his basement bunker."

But Biden strategists believe it's unlikely there will be a quick economic rebound.

On the call, Biden's senior staff described the "Biden coalition," which they say is powering his small leads in national polling. The first group includes young voters, African Americans and Hispanics; another group is suburban and college educated women; and the final one is "disaffected voters," whom they describe as non-college educated whites, blue-collar workers, black and Latino men, and those who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 and then switched to Trump in 2016.

"Many of these groups have grown less supportive of Democrats since 2012," Dillon said. "But these voters can be won back by the vice president."

The quick wrap-up of the primaries has left Biden with a greater opportunity to unify the party, Biden's staff said, but it comes at a time when the candidate has been forced off the campaign trail, limited to talking via phone and video from his Delaware home.

President Trump has started to move around the country with coronoavirus-related appearances focused on key electoral states; he traveled to Pennsylvania on Thursday and earlier was in Arizona.

His campaign also has far more money, volunteers and communications networks on hand than Biden does. Trump's campaign entered May with a $255 million war chest, according to figures they released. Biden's campaign, along with the Democratic National Committee, have about $103 million in the bank, according to figure released on the call.

"We feel very comfortable that the campaign has the resources and organization we need to win," said Dillon, saying their April fundraising was better than expected. Biden and his allied committees raised about $60.5 million last month and Trump's team along with the Republican National Committee brought in $61.7 million.

It's not clear when - or whether - Biden will return to traveling around the country and much of the Biden team's presentation focused on work the campaign is doing to prepare for an extended period of virtual campaigning.

Using a slide entitled "A campaign built to scale while operating in a new normal," Dillon explained that their operation will have 600 organizers responsible for battleground states hired by June and they plan to double the size of their digital team.

When asked directly when Biden might leave his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Dillon cited the state's stay-at-home order and insisted that Biden's retail politics skills translate well via screens.

"I think everyone's really adjusted to this new normal," Dillon said. "I truly believe voters, our volunteers, our activists and supporters get as much on hearing from the VP and connecting with him in a virtual setting now as they would if he was out in person."

- - -

The Washington Post's Dan Balz contributed to this report.