Campaigns in the era of Covid-19

Chris Lisle, Staff Writer

The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we know it since it slammed the United States in February and March. Businesses were shut down, schools and universities closed, churches closed, government offices closed, individuals began working from home if their job allowed, mask-wearing became the rule, and so much more. The pandemic has also dramatically altered how campaigning for office is undertaken, and that is and has been clearly evidence in the campaigns being run for president and down-ballot races. Candidates have to balance what has to be done in order to win their election with coronavirus restrictions and protecting the public health. The campaigns and their strategy as they cope with the coronavirus also show the deep divisions over the virus within the country and even within both parties.

President Trump’s re-election campaign has largely behaved as campaigns traditionally do, regardless of the virus and its implications. The president is still holding in-person campaign events and recently held an indoor rally in Nevada. His campaign has also still had volunteers on the ground knocking on doors. They had announced that their campaign knocks on approximately 1 million doors per week. Traditional canvassing methods are still being conducted (phone-banking, text-banking, door-knocking, etc). He also has a good number of television and social media ads running. The president briefly postponed in-person campaign events in May and June but has resumed them since. He has largely ignored key coronavirus recommendations at his events, including mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting the number of people at indoor events. While few Republicans have spoken out against the methods used by his campaign, the Republican Party has by and large sided with and supported the president and his decisions.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has largely suspended in-person operations for his campaign. He is primarily running his campaign from the basement of his home in Delaware and running a primarily virtual campaign over social media and the Internet, while simultaneously running a significant number of television ads. The former vice president has rarely had in-person events, with his in-person events largely delivering speeches in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, key battleground states that traditionally vote Democratic but flipped in favor of President Trump in 2016. Biden has also avoided press conferences and has not engaged in traditional campaign tactics since the start of the pandemic. He doesn’t have campaign volunteers knocking on doors, and phone-banking and text-banking operations have been limited. Biden did participate in an in-person debate against then progressive rival Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), however their podiums were socially distanced and there was no live audience.

While for a few months, Democrats largely backed this strategy as polling indicated Biden was in a strong place and that Trump was hurting himself as he dealt with the virus, economic collapse, and race-related issues that came to a head with the killing of George Floyd. In recent weeks, however, polling between Biden and Trump has begun to tighten in key states, and in some polls, Trump is pulling ahead of Biden in key states, making Democrats rethink Biden’s strategy. Down-ballot candidates in key races aren’t taking these kinds of chances either. With control of the Senate currently within grasp for either party (some forecasters have it listed as a toss-up, others list it as favoring Democrats), candidates are out knocking on doors and trying to connect with voters in more traditional ways to help boost their chances. Maine House Speaker and Democratic Senate nominee Sara Gideon has staff and volunteers knocking on doors on a volunteer basis with safety precautions in her bid to unseat four-term incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins.

The campaigns are doing their best to adapt to the new way of life as we all learn how to go about living with the coronavirus raging. Both sides have their own ways to contending with it and have their own approaches.