The Charlotte Observer


Gone are the rallies and fundraisers. Gone, too, are the public forums, speeches and bustling headquarters.

The coronavirus has infected one of North Carolina’s busiest election years, altering the rhythms of politics and campaigns. It’s also changing what candidates say and how they say it.

“This is fundamentally going to reshape the election in ways that we can’t even comprehend yet,” said Morgan Jackson, a Raleigh-based Democratic consultant.

Even President Donald Trump has stopped his rallies. So have Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

For many North Carolina candidates, the pandemic itself has become the defining issue.

“We’re just on a war footing now and there’s a job to do,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson. “Campaigning is irrelevant. This is about actually doing the job.”

The Charlotte Democrat said he starts every day “figuring out the big picture on where we’re at as a state with this, then communicating it via email and social media, then answering as many questions as possible.”

Sen. Jim Perry, a Kinston Republican, is also using social media and web-based broadcasts to update people on the government response and dispel rumors.

“I have found that people are content starved,” Perry told the Observer. “Hurricanes are bad enough. But they know what to expect. The unknown is what is causing so much anxiety.”

The crisis could help incumbents, who can get things done and convey information in their official capacity.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has delivered regular briefings and executive orders during the crisis. That’s helped push his approval rating to 62% in a recent poll by the conservative Civitas Institute.

But challengers are also looking for ways to help during the crisis.

Democrat Cynthia Wallace, running for Congress in the 9th District, held a Zoom Town Hall meeting this week with a local doctor. Last week Guilford County Democratic lawmakers held a virtual town hall on the state’s coronavirus response.

A lot of candidates are learning on the fly.

“We are making decisions on a daily basis on ways to campaign in the midst of a pandemic crisis,” said Chris Sinclair of Raleigh, a Republican consultant. For him and his legislative clients, that means slowing down fundraising calls as tens of thousands of people suddenly find themselves out of work.

“You’d have to be completely tone deaf to ask for money,” Sinclair said. “Its a matter of respect. It’s a matter of recognizing what’s going on. It doesn’t mean you stop. It just means you hold off.”

Not all candidates are stopping their fundraising.

“In the coming weeks, we will become more innovative and more digital,” Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson, an 8th Congressional District candidate said in a fundraising email. “Our social media presence will increase and we will reach more of you in your homes instead of on the campaign trail. We continue to need your support . . . as we attempt to find new ways to connect with voters.”

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