Campaigns across Michiana face unique challenges in pandemic
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - Elections look different every year, but campaigning traditionally follows a similar model: Candidates get out and interact with voters at rallies, fundraisers and other community gatherings, but 2020 is shaping up to be a far different election cycle due to COVID-19. Health and safety guidelines are limiting large gatherings and not recommending door to door canvasing.
"I think the old adage is you shake a lot of hands and kiss a lot of babies," St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox said. "Both of those ought to be off the table. I think you can nod at babies and bump elbows, maybe."
Some candidates said the pandemic has forced them to completely rethink their campaign strategy.
"As you start to go through the process and things change, you cancel events hoping it's only for a month or two, and it ends up being the whole campaign cycle," said Ryan Liedky, the Democratic candidate for Indiana's 21st State Representative seat. "So, we've switched to a social media campaign and by mail campaign."
Liedky also said he has interacted with voters through social service projects and has encouraged his supporters to not donate to his campaign but instead use their money to help their friends and family make it through the pandemic. He said this has all presented a chance to reset campaigning in the United States.
"Honestly, I wish that we saw more of people focused campaigning all the way around," Liedky said. "Right now, a lot of the vision that we see is based in the notion that 'we have to win. We have to win. We have to win,' but the reality is the only way we win is really truly when it's about the people."
While Liedky had to completely reset his campaign, others like Republican St. Joseph County Commissioner candidate Derek Dieter, said they are still rolling on their original plans.
"I've probably talked to two or three hundred people if not more and not one instance of 'stay away. I don't want to talk to you' or 'Have a mask on,'" Dieter said. "So, it's been pretty unique in that extent."
Election experts, like IU South Bend Political Science Professor Elizabeth Bennion, said incumbent candidates are at more of an advantage in 2020 than normal because their challengers don't have as much of an opportunity to get the name recognition they need, but that does not mean they are out of options.
"The good news for challengers is that there are effective ways to mobilize voters even during a social distancing campaign in the midst of a pandemic," Bennion said. "We know that chatty phone calls can be quite effective in moving people to the polls, and more people are at home and answering those calls. We know that mail and leaflets can make a difference."
Experts and candidates alike said in 2020, it is more important than ever to pay attention to the campaign fliers you get in the mail as those are key ways to get to know candidates.