After Susan Sahai watched Joe Biden’s town hall for front line workers in the coronavirus crisis, she decided to write him a letter.
Sahai, 63, has worked in the food safety industry for 17 years and is currently employed as a food safety program manager at a major food distribution center in New Jersey. She wrote the letter after the campaign sent a mass text message to viewers calling for submissions. “I received a text that asked us to share our stories during this time of uncertainty,” the mother of three writes to Biden. “One thing is certain; America needs to eat! And I protect what they eat.”
“Dear Susan,” Biden wrote back. “I received your message and appreciate you sharing your story during this anxious time in our history. Courageous, hardworking Americans motivate me every day to work to ensure that families and workers are protected as we see our way through the worst public health crisis our country has faced in generations.”
The exchange is being disseminated widely by the campaign as part of a new digital series called, “Sincerely, Joe Biden.” The effort, shared first with CNN, will regularly feature letters submitted by supporters, along with Biden’s response, as an example of how he is offering empathy to people when he can’t greet them personally. The campaign has attempted to draw a contrast between Biden and President Donald Trump both implicitly and explicitly, particularly on issues of character, like empathy. As the series continues, a campaign aide says that it may also evolve into publishing video exchanges and phone calls.
The series is also an example of how the Biden campaign is ramping up its digital efforts as it heads into the general election against Trump, whose campaign has largely outpaced the presumptive Democratic nominee’s operation in the digital space.
Digital outreach has become even more crucial as the coronavirus pandemic has halted traditional retail campaigning. In lieu in person interactions with voters at a photo line or after a rally, the Biden campaign has had to get creative in ways to connect voters with the former vice president, turning to virtual “rope lines” and online town halls.
While the digital series may be new, Biden is known for responding to those who write him letters, particularly to reach them in a time of tragedy. In Sioux City, Iowa, in January, one supporter stood on a chair to catch Biden’s attention and thank him for a letter he’d received. Gary Cox, an industrial salesman who volunteered for the campaign, had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
“I got a wonderful letter of encouragement from him, personalized, which, think how busy he is,” Cox told CNN then with tears in his eyes. “I’m a little bit verklempt. It meant a lot to me. Because he doesn’t know me. I never met Joe.”
Sahai said she wasn’t surprised to receive a response from Biden to her letter.
“He wants to be out in public, he wants to listen to you,” Sahai said. “So, he has done the best he can to set up a way, within his own setting, to listen to the concerns of the American public.”
Biden has shared his own experience with loss and tragedy as a way to connect with people he has come across on the campaign trail. Biden’s first wife and infant daughter were killed in a 1972 car crash, right after the young Democrat had first won his US Senate seat. Tragedy returned to Biden in 2015 when his son Beau, an Iraq War veteran who served as the attorney general of Delaware, died from brain cancer at the age of 46.
“I have a little idea what it’s like waiting and worrying about mother or father dying. I have a little idea having gone through that in a different circumstance, and so my heart goes out to you,” he told frontline workers Monday during a townhall with the League of United Latin American Citizens.