Campaigning during COVID

It's an election season like no other, as candidates mostly rely on contactless campaigning through mail, advertising and phone calls.



October 1, 2020 - 10:20 AM

Disregarding Tuesday night’s presidential debate, it’s making for a quiet campaign season locally.

Political forums are at a minimum. And for the most part, candidates are refraining from visiting voters on their doorsteps or glad-handing at fall festivals. 

Instead, get ready for an onslaught of door hangers, social media messages and phone calls.

It’s an election season like no other amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Area candidates for various races on November’s ballots mostly say they have changed their plans to accommodate social distancing recommendations.

“Historically, we’ve walked our district, knocked on doors, sought out large groups,” Rep. Kent Thompson, an Iola Republican representing District 9, said. “There’s very little of that going on.”

Instead, Thompson is counting on his incumbency, name recognition and lifelong ties to the community to send him back to Topeka. As far as getting the word out, Thompson is relying on the U.S. Postal Service.

“It’s not campaigning as normal,” he said. “But I think my district knows me and they know they can reach out to me.”

Alana Cloutier, a Democrat from Humboldt competing for Thompson’s seat, spoke to the Register while placing signs in yards and leaving door hangers at residences in Chanute. She decided to run for office the night before the filing deadline, and at that time knew the campaign season would be unusual.

“This is my first campaign, so it’s definitely really different from what I would have expected,” she said.

Because of the pandemic, she vowed not to attend any indoor events. That has meant declining invitations to political forums and other events.

Instead, she’s relying heavily on phone calls, social media, newspapers and signs.

COUNTY Commissioner Bruce Symes fended off a primary challenge and is unopposed in the general election. 

The primary race was quite different from his last campaign, when he traveled door-to-door in an exhausting summer effort two years ago. 

“It was really weird and it wasn’t as enjoyable as the first go-round, because I didn’t get to visit with folks. That was the highlight for me,” Symes said.

This time, he still walked the neighborhoods but left cards and flyers on the porch instead of knocking on doors.

“I was very mindful of (COVID-19) during the primary season. I didn’t try to engage because you don’t know somebody’s comfort level and no one wants to be potentially exposed.”

His primary campaign also consisted of direct mail, signs and advertising in newspapers and radio. He plans to continue those efforts, even without a challenger.

MIKE Bruner, of Humboldt, who is competing for the Kansas Senate District 12 and is chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party, said very few Democratic candidates are campaigning door-to-door and are instead using door hangers.

“A lot of surveys show most people would prefer they don’t go door-to-door in this environment,” he said. “It does present some challenges.”

Instead, his campaign is relying heavily on Zoom events, newspaper advertising and direct mail.

Fundraising is also challenging, with some candidates organizing small gatherings, often outdoors.

Political signs for Democratic candidates.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
Political signs for Republican candidates.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Bruner’s opponent, incumbent Sen. Caryn Tyson, said she is holding to her traditional campaign strategy by attending forums and in-person events.

“We put 800 miles on the vehicle last week. We’re campaigning hard,” she said. “I feel like you have to be out there in front of people. That’s part of the job.”

JIM Talkington, chairman of the Allen County Republican Party, said some traditional events have been scrapped.

A downtown rally earlier this week, however, was held, though only about a dozen attended.

Talkington said he expects more voters will request absentee ballots, and he isn’t worried about problems with mail-in ballots at the county level.

“I support the idea that if you feel you need to wear a mask, please do,” he said of local, state and federal health recommendations during the pandemic. “I also believe the Allen County electorate is smart enough and informed. I encourage them to continue to do their research on candidates and make the appropriate choice when it’s time to vote.”

WITH SO many campaigns relying on contactless campaigning, it’s not surprising to hear about increased theft and vandalism of political signs.

Bruner, who is also the chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party, and Talkington issued a joint statement this week condemning those who target political signs.

Democrats have reported several incidents, Bruner said, while Talkington added he’s heard very few reports of damage to Republican signs. Other area counties have reported many incidents, Bruner said. 

He believes this political season has been worse than recent years, echoing the division between political ideologies nationwide.

Stealing or damaging campaign signs is a crime, they pointed out. 

It also interferes in the political process and disrupts the right to free speech, Bruner said. 

“You’re depriving them not only of property but you’re depriving them of a right,” he said.

“A lot of people want to do something to contribute but they work too many hours to volunteer to the campaign, and not everyone can afford to make political contributions. Putting a few signs in your yard is a way to participate in the political process.”

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