APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Trump

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Sunday, March 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

ATLANTA (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak has grounded the 2020 presidential race — but not ended it.

What we're watching heading into a new week of what we used to call the campaign trail:

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Days to next set of primaries (if Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming don't reschedule): 12

Days to general election: 225

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The narrative

Call it the Bully Pulpit Rule: The terms of any incumbent presidential election start at the White House. Donald Trump, whose chief political skill always has been media domination, seems ready-made for that. The Republican president also has an opposition party stuck in neutral. Joe Biden is the Democrats' nominee-in-waiting, but Bernie Sanders remains in the race, with no official end in sight.

Yet with all that going for Trump, the COVID-19 pandemic finally has presented the former reality television star with a very real crisis. The leader of the free world, no matter how many White House briefings he gives, cannot simply define, overwhelm or intimidate a deadly communicable disease as if it's a conventional political opponent. And not even an American president can dictate how the world economy responds. Trump has all the advantages of incumbency. Now, he's forced to confront the pitfalls.

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The big questions

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The final thought

Not long ago, Trump made clear he wanted 2020 to be about his stewardship of the economy, a validation of his promise to "make America great again." From the start of his campaign, Biden also invited a referendum on Trump, arguing that the president threatened the very "soul of the nation." With seven months and change until Election Day, it's clear: Both men will get their wish.

2020 Watch runs every Monday and provides a look at the week ahead in the 2020 election.

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Follow Barrow at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP.

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Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, "Ground Game."

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