I have a confession: I went to Costco last week and bought a cartful of pasta, beans, frozen veggies and Clorox wipes. I wouldn't say I panicked in the face of coronavirus, but I like to be prepared. I have three kids - two are ravenous teenagers - and the prospect of "significant disruption" compelled me to pull on my yoga pants and hop into my Volvo to stock up for the coming plague.
You've heard of the "soccer moms" of the 1996 election, and the "security moms" of 2004. Now meet the sanitizer moms of 2020. We are on text chains and Facebook feeds sharing updates about the emerging pandemic. We are about to be legion - spreading like a contagion, if you will - and we've been training for this since we first picked up a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting."
Recent days have seen a rush of panicked shoppers at big-box stores all over the country and online, cleaning out even Amazon of hand sanitizer. Americans are preparing for quarantine and for a shortage of drugs, and their fears have brought about a political reckoning in the Democratic primaries. Following Super Tuesday, New York magazine snarked, "Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 appear to have created a new bloc of coronavirus voters - whatever that means."
To counter this grim reality, and looking ahead to the general election in November, President Donald Trump spins his own fairy tale of a functional government. His recently televised address and appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to spearhead the government's response were meant to be reassuring - not just to families but also to investors who are selling off stocks at an unsettling speed. The president, unbelievably, is still downplaying the crisis, speculating that the World Health Organization's mortality rate is overestimated and sharing out-of-date statistics on the number of Americans infected.
Moms don't have the patience for the president's misinformation. We have to figure out how we are going to work when our kids' schools close - or when our workplaces do. When I made a joke on Twitter about what to do with 290 million kids home from school, an Iowa mom replied, "Much more worried about what we'll do for money." Our kids may be tuned in to the Disney Channel, but we're watching the cable bill.
All of this was on the minds of Democratic primary voters on Super Tuesday. In exit polling in several big states - including California, which reported the first case of "community spread"; Texas, which hosts a major quarantine area for patients with confirmed cases from China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship; and Virginia, home to thousands of federal government workers who know a thing or two about security and global health - more than half said the coronavirus was a factor in their vote.
Just like that, the electability argument prevailed. Those who were candidate shopping all last year are now backing the person they consider the safest bet against a reckless and malignant president. According to NBC News, those coronavirus voters chose former Vice President Joe Biden by 47% to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' 29%.
Though there is a case to be made that providing Medicare-for-all would serve us well in a pandemic, jittery voters looked for safe harbor in the former vice president. When it came time to vote Tuesday, Biden won both women and health-care voters by 12 points across the 14 Super Tuesday states.
While Biden isn't a groundbreaking or inspiring candidate (and women are frankly getting tired of the relentlessness of political sexism), he's trustworthy in the face of looming public health and economic crises. As Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said, "Joe knows us" - and as always, the personal is the political. With unrelenting news of coronavirus spreading and the economy faltering, sanitizer parents of both political parties are likely to turn to a candidate who can instill confidence in a crisis, one who understands that our kids are what keep us up at night (sometimes literally).
There's a second phase of the contest coming up soon. Although she didn't win Super Tuesday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's confidence-inducing plans - she even had one for coronavirus - mollified sanitizer moms like a glass of rosé while watching Rachel Maddow. So if Joe knows us as well as we hope, he'll pick a woman for his vice president.
Fiore was a senior adviser to former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro.