ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — News that the president and first lady had contracted the coronavirus has forced the cancellation of a planned trip to southern California, where President Donald Trump had been scheduled to attend two campaign fundraisers.
The local GOP in Orange County expected the visit to excite the voter base and help float a late surge in the president's campaign spending.
Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, said the canceled trip upended plans for a $25,000 a plate fundraiser in Beverly Hills and another sold-out $2,800 a plate fundraiser at a private Newport Beach residence. Local organizers are optimistic the events can be rescheduled before the end of the month.
But Whitaker doesn't see Trump's illness hurting him at the polls.
"I don't see it as a voting issue at all," he said. "I think all people of goodwill should want the president and the first lady to have symptoms as mild as possible."
If anything, Whitaker said, Trump's illness will help voters see he's taking the virus seriously.
"I'm also confident part of this is going to show the president's viewpoint to have safe reopenings and making sure the hospital system isn't overwhelmed and we can get our economy back to normal," he said.
The Orange County Registrar of Voters won't begin sending mail-in ballots until Monday, giving people in the county more time to make up their minds. That allows more opportunity for major news events to influence the election.
But Trump is already deeply unpopular in California. Joe Biden, according to FiveThirtyEight, leads in the state 61.5 percent to 31 percent.
Matthew Beckmann, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, said Trump's illness won't change voters' minds but could block out other news that might. He added that Trump might already be too unpopular for any news to block out bad headlines.
"The economy is like the first among anything," Beckmann said. "If the economy were soaring, Trump would be able to get through anything."
Despite recent surges in the stock market, the economy has been punished by the near extinction of significant events and the economic benefits that accompany them. Unemployment numbers have exploded to heights comparable to the economic turmoil of the 2008 Great Recession. The jobs report from September shows that while the economy added 661,000 jobs, it still underperformed. Ten million people remain unemployed.
Beckmann says Trump is too far behind in the polls to pull off an Election Day victory.
"The fact that COVID is going to dominate the news for at least two of the last five weeks until the election is a big deal," Beckmann said.
It's unclear how much the diagnosis could hurt Trump, or if voters will even care.
"There just isn't a lot of great news out there [for Trump]," Beckmann said. "It's a bad headline that's just displacing other bad headlines."