Campaigning For Congress-- In The Midst Of The Pandemic

Asshole without a mask campaigns among men all wearing masks

Right before the shutdown, an unsymptomatic campaign volunteer gave everyone on a congressional campaign COVID-19-- as well as the candidate's entire family. No one died. But it sure screwed up the campaign. Yesterday, the Attorney General of Michigan, Dana Nessel, said Señor Trumpanzee is no longer welcome in the state after he adamantly refused to wear a mask in public as part of a campaign stunt. "He is a petulant child who refuses to follow the rules. This is not a joke." Michigan has been a hard-hit state that is working very diligently to flatten the curve by encouraging-- not discouraging-- everyone to wear a mask. Michigan's 53,510 caseload increased by 501 cases while Trump was in the state yesterday and 69 more people died, bringing their total deaths to 5,129. (Yesterday there were 5,358 cases per million people, worse than every European country other than Spain.)

A political consultant friend of the blog, Eric Hogensen, wrote up some suggestions for campaigning during the pandemic for his clients and shared it with us. "The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting changes to our lives," he wrote earlier this week, "have altered politics. In addition to moving election dates, restrictions on the usual messaging tactics have changed campaigns, possibly for the rest of the year."


With canvassing is limited or unavailable, social media will become more important and valuable this year. Online videos, both planned and live, can be used by the candidate to get their message out. A candidate can also host question-and-answer sessions that connect a candidate to a voter. Organizing a virtual night based on any one of the main issues taking place in the district you are running in, is a great way to reach voters. Also, utilizing more apps with platforms such as Nextdoor to reach voters in your district directly will greatly benefit your campaign.


The typical political messages may seem less appropriate during these challenging times, so messages should be inspiring and hopeful. It’s important to remember not to change your brand as a candidate during these times. You can pivot with creative messaging and expanding your brand but don’t change who you are.


Instead of canvassing door-to-door, phone banking will become more important. Use community mapping by starting with who you know and identifying who is influential (such as local leaders). Build a list of these individuals and then ask them to introduce you to their connections. Predictive dialer services should also be utilized even more during this cycle. Also, the targeting for different constituencies through phone calls should be looked at with a closer lens to evaluate your support as you begin your outreach. With volunteers making calls from home, it can actually be easier for calls to get made. Set up weekly goals and a leaderboard so volunteers can reach enough voters.

Although these are challenging times, candidates should recognize that there are still alternative ways to reach voters, and that it is important to spread the message of hope and unity during this crisis.

I asked some of the Blue America-endorsed candidates how they're coping with keeping a campaign moving forward during the pandemic. Indiana progressive Jim Harper was the first to respond: "Our campaign acted early to make sure that we were doing no harm. I haven't shaken a hand for months, and we quickly cancelled our in-person events even before stay-at-home orders were issued. We have switched our focus to phone calls and digital outreach, but also work to make sure that we as a campaign are giving back during a difficult time. Every week, we engage in multiple service activities. This is a good opportunity to remain connected with our community, while lending a helping hand."

Goal ThermometerIf Jennifer Christie wins, she will have flipped an open red seat in the suburbs north of Indianapolis. There's a crowded field of Republican-lite Democrats and Jennifer is the only one running on a straight-up progressive platform. This morning she told us that "We started knocking doors right after the New Year. We were out several times per week long before any other campaigns had started canvassing. We knocked in thr sleet and snow. Then the pandemic hit. We stopped knocking with an abrupt halt to keep our team and constituents safe. We immediately switched over to phone-banking, text-banking, and zoom-events. We are on the phone daily and it’s going really well. Because people are home more, we talk to a lot of people. And we get overwhelmingly yes commitments with enthusiasm for our truly progressive campaign and the chance to send a scientist and a mom to Congress."

The Newark, Elizabeth, Bayonne, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City district that Hector Oseguera is running in is very different from IN-05. For one thing, the district is as blue as it gets and the electorate is 65% Hispanic. The winner of the primary is the next member of Congress. Hector is campaigning hard against an entrenched, machine-backed incumbent, Albio Sires. Earlier today, Hector told us that "Incumbents normally hold a tremendous advantage over their challengers, having much better access to funding and to influential groups within their districts. This new reality has quickly leveled off this traditional power disparity, as both elected officials and their challengers adapt to life in lockdown. This campaign specifically, has shifted to online advertisements on platforms like Facebook, which can have as much impact and reach as traditional television and radio ads at a fraction of the cost. Letter writing campaigns offer remote outreach opportunities that give voters a personal, one-on-one experience, while maintaining social distancing. Even our activism need not grind to a halt. I've participated in a number of COVID-safe rallies at ICE detention centers, where activists drive around prisons, honking profusely, to let the inmates and staff know that we are aware of the unsafe conditions inside. All this chaos can provide creative, tech-savvy campaigns a much needed advantage on a traditionally skewed playing field. How campaigns adapt to this new world will vary depending on the contours of their districts; but the old Latin proverb, Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat, hold true today... fortune favors the bold!"

"In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Rochester, NY candidate Robin Wilt, "our campaign first off transitioned to mutual aid efforts. We saw the communities that were most engaged in our campaign suffering, so we started making deliveries for a local food pantry, which turned out to be one of the few food pantries in the county that has continued to operate during the crisis. We also transitioned our phonebanks to include senior check-ins. In addition to mutual aid efforts, we knew that our original strategy would depend a lot on direct voter contact, so since we didn’t have that in our toolbox anymore, we transitioned our outreach to social media, and we began doing weekly COVID-19 community check-ins. These are updates where we highlight the issues facing our frontline and most vulnerable community members to raise awareness and build action around moving forward through this pandemic together, with no one left behind. We have now done these public forums and outreach to the arts and self care communities, for those that are housing insecure, the immigrant, migrant, and refugee community, the incarcerated community, the climate justice community, the mutual aid community, educators, voting rights advocacy, etc. Yesterday, we hosted a call with Medicare for All advocates. We promote them via Zoom on Facebook Live, and it’s a means to engage voters around the priorities that matter most to the electorate."

"So, basically," she concluded, "our team has shifted to a strong digital outreach effort through social media channels. The results have been terrific, reaching an average of 60,000 voters each week. We’ve also never strayed from our activist roots. What we’re finding during the pandemic is that raising awareness and taking action to support our frontline communities is the best mechanism to spread our message.

Mckayla Wilkes is taking on Pelosi's #2 (and K Street's #1)-- Steny Hoyer. "Prior to COVID-19," she told us today, "we were knocking on over 10,000 doors a weekend so when we had to suspend canvassing we were obviously a bit concerned as to how we would continue to get the word out about our campaign. But thankfully, we were able to transition fast due to our committed volunteers. Since we shut down canvassing, we’ve made hundreds of thousands of calls, seen an increase in volunteers by 1000%, raised over $300k and see no signs of slowing down. Just yesterday, we launched our first TV ad campaign throughout the district!"

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