The Note: Biden turns Trump messaging against him

“Sleepy Joe” is signaling that he’s very much awake.

July 1, 2020, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

Who's the absent candidate now?

A campaign that looks like no other has a fresh twist. Former Vice President Joe Biden has emerged with new messaging that sounds just a bit like the case President Donald Trump has been making against him.

"Sleepy Joe" is signaling that he's very much awake -- and dialed into a moment where Trump's leadership is ripe for questioning. Trump called himself a "wartime president," but with Trump hesitating on mask-wearing and largely quiet amid the surge of COVID-19 cases, Biden said he has "surrendered, waved the white flag and left the battlefield."

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an event about affordable health care at the Lancaster Recreation Center on June 25, 2020, in Lancaster, Pa.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an event about affordable health care at the Lancaster Recreation Center on June 25, 2020, in Lancaster, Pa. Biden met with families who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act and made remarks on his plan for affordable health care.
Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Biden is using the storyline about Russia putting bounties on U.S. troops as evidence of what he calls a "dereliction of duty." And with Trump questioning Biden's mental capacity, and having suggested that he wants to avoid debates, the former vice president says he's itching for direct comparisons.

"I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I'm running against," Biden said in closing his remarks to reporters Tuesday in Delaware.

The new Biden tone won't be part of every news cycle. Some Trump aides and allies are glad to see Biden leaving his home, with every fresh appearance a chance to redirect campaign attacks and get the president engaged anew with the campaign.

But the criticism Biden faced for going quiet in recent months has long since faded. It's Trump who is strangely absent from this moment, at a scary time for the nation and a still-fluid one for the campaign.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

More and more it looks like the president is also disappearing from conversations deep in Trump territory.

Tuesday night, Mississippi's governor signed the bill officially bringing down the old Mississippi state flag -- the last state flag that had still included the full and overt emblem of the Confederacy.

PHOTO: Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signs the bill retiring the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem during a ceremony at the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., June 30, 2020.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signs the bill retiring the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem during a ceremony at the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., June 30, 2020.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

While the White House has been quiet on the issue and punted to the states to make their own decisions, the move from Republican lawmakers in the state and Republican governor sure ran counter to recent messages from Trump about preserving Confederate names and monuments.

In Oklahoma too, there was a different conversation related to COVID-19. The Republican governor there, for the first time, wore a mask in public and urged residents in his state to do so too.

"I've suggested that occasionally the president might want to wear a mask just to signal to people that he thinks it's important," said Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "Millions of Americans admire him, they'll follow his lead."

Until then, many Republican leaders, who are now facing spikes and a steep rise in cases, are moving on and pushing a message of public health without the president.

The TIP with Kendall Karson

It was seen as a test of the left. A test of the movement over racial injustice. A test of running in the era of the coronavirus.

In Kentucky's Senate Democratic primary, which was finally settled on Tuesday, a week after voting took place, State Rep. Charles Booker's ability to coalesce the progressive wing behind his long-shot campaign and turn a sleeper race into a tougher-than-expected contest, ultimately fell to the battle-tested Amy McGrath. She only edged him out by two points, but she avoided an embarrassing defeat for national Democrats who endorsed her at the beginning of the year.

PHOTO: "Official Election Mail" tags are displayed on bins of ballots at the Runbeck Election Services facility in Phoenix, June 23, 2020.
"Official Election Mail" tags are displayed on bins of ballots at the Runbeck Election Services facility in Phoenix, June 23, 2020.
Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg via Getty Images

McGrath's advantages extended beyond her more than $40 million in the bank and endorsements from the establishment -- to mail ballots. McGrath performed better in the more rural parts of the state, but in the largest county, Jefferson, which covers Booker's hometown of Louisville, he won 60%-35%. And according to data from the county clerk, Booker and McGrath ran far more competitively in the county's mail-in vote, with about 20 points separating them, compared to the in-person vote, in which the margin was 64 points, underscoring just how late his last-minute boost came.

Kentucky still provides many lessons, particularly how to run a "successful" and "clean" election in the middle of a persistent coronavirus pandemic ahead of November, as the secretary of state said on Tuesday. But Booker wasn't the only progressive to fall Tuesday -- miles away in Colorado, Andrew Romanoff, who ran on a progressive platform, lost to former Gov. John Hickenlooper in the Democratic primary to take on Sen. Cory Gardner, one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election. Now, as the focus turns to November, the ability of Democrats to unite as deep unrest reshapes the country emerges as the newest test.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Wednesday morning's episode features ABC News Chief National Correspondent Matt Gutman, who tells us how the battle over masks and restrictions are playing out in states as Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts we could soon see 100,000 COVID-19 cases per day. ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell explains how a new China security law is reshaping Hong Kong. And, ABC News' Karen Travers tells us about the looming child care crisis caused by the pandemic. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., joins ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl to discuss the escalating cases of COVID-19. Scott, who authored the GOP-backed police reform legislation, also shares his thoughts on police reform. https://bit.ly/2w091jE

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • The Committee on Small Business holds a hearing to discuss what steps the Small Business Administration must take to better meet the needs of small businesses adversely impacted by the coronavirus at 10 a.m. on Capitol Hill
  • President Donald Trump has a lunch with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the White House at 1:15 p.m.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden will attend a virtual Biden for President finance event.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.

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