Candidates running for public office are attempting to bridge a gap between their campaigns and voters caused by social distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The public health crisis continues to disrupt their ability to hold large meetings and accept contributions.
Many candidates say they’ve had to pivot resources and campaigning efforts over to social media, phone banking and other digital alternatives to one-on-one meetings.
But for many, this new way of connecting with voters during the crisis likely won’t be as effective as the personal touch of campaigning out in the public.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how this impacts what we’re doing this year, since we are all locked down at home. The normal venues that are connecting us to voters are all pretty much closed to us and we don’t know when it’ll end,” said Nancy Slotnick, a Republican candidate running in Washington’s 10th Congressional District.
Slotnick is one of about a dozen candidates competing for retiring Congressman Denny Heck’s seat. She’s also one of about six Republicans in that race who, as the August primary approaches, will be looking for ways to sell their message to voters.
A U.S. Army veteran, Slotnick was looking to leverage her platform on veterans issues and Social Security to move forward past the primary.
But the escalation of the coronavirus over the last few weeks has thrown a wrench into many of the public plans her campaign had established. The old adage that elections are won by doorbelling has been disrupted, she said.
“Who we put into office is still important and how we put people into office is still important, but how we connect with voters has just become a lot more challenging,” she said, adding about donations that “there’s no right way to reach out and ask people for money at this time, and that’s a very challenging thing.”
Rory Summerson, a Democrat running for the first time for John Hutchings’ seat on the Thurston Board of County Commissioners, said reaching out for contributions has definitely been a balancing act.
“It’s how do we balance funding a campaign and not seem callous or cold that people are struggling right now?” the 33-year-old candidate said.
Summerson notes that he plans on pivoting toward digital town halls as election season heats up to connect to voters directly. His campaign is currently working to organize its voter data to further utilize its resources where it can.
An assistant manager at Blue Ribbon Service Company, Summerson said he hasn’t been immune to the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus. He was recently furloughed shortly after hours at his work took a “kick in the teeth.”
“The most difficult thing has been to see that this is taking an effect on people’s health, even in our local communities. The anxiety, the stress, the depression,” he said.
Joshua Collins, a 26-year-old Democratic Socialist running for Washington’s 10th District congressional seat who has gained significant traction with respect to fundraising and social media outreach, said even his internet-centered movement has had to change due to the crisis.
He and his campaign had planned on kicking off canvassing efforts later this month in Thurston and Pierce counties. He said his campaign had about 100 volunteers ready to go door-to-door.
That effort, unfortunately, has either been lost or postponed.
“We had put a lot of resources into putting those ready,” he said. “But we’ve been focusing on phone banking and reaching out to voters through social media.”
Collins, whose campaign has garnered nearly $123,000 in total contributions according to numbers from the Federal Election Commission, notes that contributions have also been seeing a decline.
His campaign usually nets about $500 a day — much of it in small donations. That number has dropped to about $200 a day, he said.
One aspect that he’s been pushing to his supporters is the notion that contributions are going directly into his small staff’s wages. His staff gets paid about $21 an hour, and he noted that they have not yet had to lay off anybody.
For him, it’s about keeping his staff healthy and paid.
“Many of them have kids, and they have families to support and medical bills that they have to take care of,” Collins said.
Gina Blanchard-Reed, one of five other Republicans running for the 2nd Legislative District’s open Senate seat, has been riding her Honda Rebel 500 motorcycle around to different small businesses as the economic crisis has worsened.
In addition to getting out and supporting small businesses, Blanchard-Reed said she’s been out gaging the struggle people have been through.
“It’s sort of a therapy for me,” the Graham fire commissioner said. “It’s such a small thing.”
Blanchard-Reed said many people have been concerned about their families and close social circles.
She currently has a bipartisan fundraising event scheduled for later this May, which she hasn’t canceled yet. The tentative goal is to play it by ear.
So far, Blanchard-Reed said her campaign has been focused on auditing its social media strategies and seeing how they can further utilize digital tools to stand out in what’s likely going to be a crowded Republican field.
“I think we’ve all had to be more creative and nimble,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat.”