Forced to abandon traditional campaign events such as rallies and fundraisers, political candidates are trying to remain in the public eye by hosting informational and charity events related to the coronavirus pandemic.
They have kept voters informed through live-streamed town halls on the virus, bringing in health experts to speak and answer questions. Many also posted information on their social media pages and campaign websites, sharing how people can stay safe and help out, and spotlighting local restaurants that offer takeout food and charities seeking donations.
Both incumbents and newcomers vying for office in November have also turned their campaigns into service operations. Kate Schroder, a Democratic candidate in Ohio’s 1st District, set a goal for her team to sew 1,000 masks for doctors, nurses and first responders in Cincinnati while Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) is producing hand sanitizer from his whiskey distillery.
In Georgia’s 7th District race to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), Republican candidate Lynne Homrich committed to hiring 20 workers for her campaign that were laid off by small businesses.
Amy McGrath, who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), announced a statewide initiative to match volunteers with individuals who can’t leave their homes and need help getting basic supplies, and a second effort to raise funds for Kentucky food banks.
In a TV ad released last week, McGrath appears in her home as her husband and young children play in the background.
“Because of the coronavirus, we decided to focus our campaign on helping families and seniors throughout Kentucky,” McGrath says in the ad, which doesn’t mention politics, policy or McConnell.
So far, 150 people volunteered and 50 requested assistance, according to the campaign. More than $30,000 has been raised for food banks in the states.
In Massachusetts, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who is challenging Sen. Ed Markeyin the Democratic primary, suspended all campaign activates on March 13, including fundraising. Kennedy initially suggested the pause would only last a week, however he has yet to resume activity.
Since then, Kennedy has used his campaign mailing lists to raise more than $20,000 in donations to charities and non-profits working on coronavirus relief efforts.
Ted Howze, a Republican challenging Rep. Josh Harder in California’s northern San Joaquin Valley, took a similar approach, collecting donations of food and household goods and producing care packages for seniors and disabled veterans.
“A lot of the supplies we had have come right out of the pockets of our volunteers, campaign staffers. We’ve spent hours scouring stores,” Howze said in one of the almost daily videos he’s posted on social media explaining the program — named Operation Compassion — without making mention of the race or his opponent.
The campaign has helped more than 235 people since the field operation transitioned into a service operation, Howze campaign manager Tim Rosales said Thursday. That number has grown in the days since; cars lined up Monday to pick up loaves of bread from in front of his campaign office in Salida. Rosales said Howze was still calling donors and working to communicate with voters, but he’s asking how people are doing rather than fundraising.
“A campaign has to communicate with voters and people in a way that’s relevant, real, and authentic and that matters,” Rosales said. “This is the campaign, it just takes a little bit of a different form.”
Of course, the need for money for the fall campaign remains. The Howze campaign posted a fundraising plea on Facebook on Monday, citing Tuesday’s first-quarter deadline as an important way to show he can defeat “Nancy Pelosi’s protege.”
Besides allowing candidates to demonstrate their passion for an area, charity work also helps keep volunteers engaged and helps campaign managers determine who can be given more responsibility within the organization, said Ian Russell, a former deputy executive director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Yet, it’s not a replacement for door knocking and hand shaking, he said.
“There are limits to using your campaign operations to do charitable work,” Russell said. “At the end of the day it’s not going to do the two basic things a field operation does: convince swing voters to support you through personal conversations and motivate your base to turn out.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org