COVID-19 Rewrites the Rules of Political Campaigning

20 September 2020

Madeleine Dean, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, describes herself as a "big hugger."

But there is no hugging or handshaking with Dean this year as she seeks to keep her House seat. Her political campaign is largely online to protect against the health risks of COVID-19.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an event with local union members in the backyard of a home in Lancaster, Pa., Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an event with local union members in the backyard of a home in Lancaster, Pa., Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Democratic Party is supporting Dean's candidacy. She represents an area north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the state of Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst is doing things differently. She just completed a political campaign trip to 99 counties across her state. Most of the time she wore a face covering, but not all of the time. Ernst, a Republican, spoke to medium-sized groups. At one point she and supporters gathered next to each other to take a picture.

"Even in these challenging times, it's my job to show up and hear directly from all Iowans," Ernst said in a video message after finishing her trip.

Different methods of campaigning

The two lawmakers show the different methods of campaigning that are appearing in a pandemic election year. Candidates are hoping to win over voters in races that will decide control of Congress.

Republicans are defending a narrow three-seat majority in the Senate. Democrats want to hold onto or expand their majority in the House.

President Donald Trump is setting an example for the Republicans. He has held large campaign events -- with few face masks.

The Democratic Party, led by presidential nominee Joe Biden, is keeping events small and mostly online. The Democrats believe that voters will support them for following public health rules.

By November, voters will decide who did things right, as the coronavirus crisis rewrites the rules of political campaigning.

"I can't wait for the day when I can go back to knocking on doors and being at train stations to speak to people directly," Dean said during a Zoom call with reporters. "But we're making the most of it."

Changing pollution opinion

The House and Senate campaigns are appealing to voters as opinions about COVID-19 continue to change. In July, an opinion survey showed that 85 percent of Americans said they were staying away from large groups. By August, about 75 percent of Americans said they were at least a little concerned about themselves or a family member being infected, the poll found.

The study was a project of the Associated Press and the NORC Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The number of new coronavirus cases nationwide is no longer rising like it had been. But public health experts warn that Americans' behavior will decide whether there is another rise in cases this year with the arrival of colder weather and the flu season.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, has told lawmakers that they must set an example. Campaigns are looked to "as leaders in the community," said a DCCC message seen by The Associated Press.

Online gatherings with candidates, text messaging and Zoom meet-ups are replacing the traditional campaign events and door-knocking operations.

Republicans appear more likely to hold in-person events. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held public events in about 20 Kentucky communities in August.

Usually, outside groups work hard in support of candidates. They often send volunteers or workers door to door to reach voters. This year, they, too, are doing things differently.

The Congressional Leadership Fund announced it is providing $3.5 million in an effort to send people to 12 House districts that Republicans want to win.

A Republican political advisor said the party believes that with so many Americans home because of the coronavirus crisis there is a "captive audience" of voters to reach.

Tim Phillips of the Americans for Prosperity Action said his group started testing door knocking on June 1. By July, the group expanded door-knocking nationwide and found people are very willing to open up, he said.

The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees is launching its "big green machine." The effort brings together thousands of union workers and retirees to online field office. The aim is to help elect Biden and "candidates up and down the ballot," the union said.

Volunteers can call voters, send text messages and take other actions. A union official said they find that people want to "do something."

Back in Philadelphia, Madeleine Dean noted that there is nothing that can compare to face-to-face meetings. But she said she strongly believes that virtual campaign events will be enough.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

hugger - n. someone who likes to give hugs (the act of putting your arms around someone or something as a way of showing love or friendship)

challenging - adj. difficult, sometimes in a way that is interesting or enjoyable

knock - v. to hit something (such as a door) with the knuckles of your hand or with a hard object

flu - n. a common disease that is caused by a virus and that causes fever, weakness, body aches, and breathing problems

virtual - adj. existing or occurring on computers or on the Internet

district - n. an area established by a government for official government business

audience - n. the people who watch, read, or listen to something