How do you campaign in a pandemic

Published April 10, 2020

By Brad Crone

In these unprecedented times, elected officials and candidates are trying to figure out the proper etiquette for campaigning because they know come November, we are going to have an election.

Candidates are totally tone-deaf if they are attempting to fundraise during the stay-healthy-at-home period.  Most donors have just taken a beating in the stock market.  Their investment funds have been raided by an economic panic brought on by COVID-19.  The last thing donors want to hear is a pitch to give $1000 for a virtual fundraising event.  Wise politicians will be willing to wait it out until there is some return to the new regular order.

What has been effective are tele-town halls. Last week Congressman David Price (D-NC-04) hosted SBA State Director Thomas Stith on a well-attended and informative one-hour session detailing SBA efforts to help small business owners. It was wildly popular and provided a platform for the Congressman to connect with his voters during a crisis and showcase tangible programs that can help his district.

State Senator Jeff Jackson in Charlotte has been at the forefront of this crisis as well – providing informative videos, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts helping constituents better understand current policies and what actions the state is taking to help his constituents.  There is little doubt that Senator Jackson is a rising star for Democrats in Charlotte and across the state.

Meanwhile, challengers are sidelined right now but many candidates are using the extra time to focus on organization efforts such as building teams of volunteers to help staff the phone banks coming this summer and putting together coalition groups.

As we move out of the current medical/healthcare crisis, we will be moving into an economic crisis as we attempt to resuscitate our state and national economy.  Those efforts will have political consequences from the White House to the Courthouse.  Typically, voters have not been kind to incumbent presidents during recessions but with Donald Trump as President – nothing is typical.

There is not a single poll or political pundit that can predict the trend lines going into the November election right now because the political environment is just too volatile.

From an operational standpoint, the State Board of Elections is working diligently to prepare for the upcoming General Election.  Karen Brinson Bell appeared before a Legislative Oversight Committee earlier in the week seeking guidance on a statewide Vote by Mail program if it is necessary.

It is highly doubtful that a Republican led General Assembly will allow for a Vote by Mail program in North Carolina so the fallback will have to be a robust absentee ballot program.  That means, the State Board of Elections will have to implement some type of automation process, so the county boards aren’t overwhelmed when they are already facing staffing and budget issues.

If the state automates the absentee ballot process, there could be significant cost savings for postage, and it could provide critical relief for county election offices.

Campaigning in a pandemic is about being smart.  It’s about putting the interests of others ahead of yourself – for many politicians that’s going to be tantamount to a huge change in their outlook and behavior. For now the politicians should focus on bending the curve, getting out from stay at home orders and finding the economic defibrillator to shock business and industry back to life.