As the coronavirus outbreak necessarily subsumes the public’s attention, candidates for public office might be wondering how to proceed.
In Washington State, a primary is still scheduled for August 4th followed by a November 3rd general election. With these dates fast approaching alongside the ongoing sense of uncertainty surrounding the outbreak, campaigns will almost certainly have to change their approach.
Campaign and government affairs consultant Chad Minnick has offered some advice for candidates and campaigns attempting to figure out how to do the work of electoral politics in the midst of this crisis.
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Messaging – Don’t act like an activist
You are an elected official or a candidate for public office. You are held to a higher standard, not just in reality but in the public’s mind. They expect you to be calm, they expect you to be fact based and accurate. They expect you not to be posting those memes and messages that say, ‘This is out of control! Trump is bad! Inslee is bad!’ Don’t say, ‘the flu kills more people every year, why are we freaking out.’
Don’t say those things, for two reasons. One: you can control a lot of things about your campaign, but you can’t control a pandemic. You have no idea how bad this going to get. Not just worldwide, or nationwide; you have no idea how bad it’s going to get in your community. Imagine if you are a city council member in the city of Kirkland, where it was ground zero for the United States. Your community is not going to appreciate it if you said in the beginning, this is not a big deal, we’re overreacting, and then a bunch of people die in your neighborhood. Don’t be that candidate that says these things that you’ll regret later on when something bad happens. Be circumspect, think about boomerangs. You don’t want something coming back and hurting you.
The second thing: be sensitive to people’s fears. There are a lot of people out there who are really nervous. There are a lot of people out there who have elderly parents, grandparents, or friends. So don’t down play this and say, look at the numbers, etc. Numbers don’t matter. You do not want a hit piece coming around in October that says, ‘how many deaths is acceptable to Senator____.”
Make tactical changes
Your campaign is going to change. You’re not going to be able to have 20-30 people out for a Super Saturday going door to door. Folks in your community might get a little weird about opening their door. You will not able to have the same kick off events, etc. So think about, tactically, how you can talk to people. One of the things we talk about at our firm is a thing called “digital doorbelling.” It’s a term we use to refer to any type of person-to-person digital outreach. People are on their computers, on their phones; take advantage of that.”