Campaigns will be different due to pandemic, officials say

With the November election less than three months away, political candidates would usually be busy on the road, holding rallies and working to get their voters excited.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned much of what people “usually” do upside down, forcing the cancellation of large events and preventing gatherings of crowds. The fall campaign season will be unusual as well.

Officials from the state Republican and Democratic parties said Wednesday that campaigns will be operating differently, such as not speaking to potential voters door-to-door, and not holding large events.

“I do think that it’s difficult and challenging for campaigns (who are) trying to figure something out that no one has had to figure out ever,” said Marisa McNee, deputy executive director of the Democratic Party of Kentucky. But, for campaigns, “there’s not really a choice,” she said.

McNee said the party has issued guidance to campaigns about the need to wear masks and practice social distancing. The state lifted its restriction against people going door-to-door about a month ago, but “with the surge (in cases), people are starting to pull back a little bit,” McNee said.

While Democratic candidates’ campaigns will go door-to-door, they likely won’t be engaging directly with voters, McNee said.

“It’s fairly safe to go door-to-door and put a piece of campaign (literature)” on the door, McNee said. Contact with voters will be likely done remotely, through technology, she said.

Each campaign will decide on how to proceed. “Individual campaigns have to decide safety for themselves and their candidates,” McNee said, adding that big events drawing large numbers of people are unlikely.

McNee said Amy McGrath’s U.S. Senate campaign is doing appearances while taking precautions. “She’s available,” McNee said. “If someone wants to come up (to talk), and stay six feet away, they can,” she said.

Michael Lonergan, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said in a statement that campaigns are planning to hold some in-person events, while following health recommendations.

“We’re making sure staff and volunteers follow proper requirements and guidelines, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing,” Lonergan said. “We’ve been seeing a mix of virtual events and a gradual return to small, in-person gatherings where appropriate, based on guidelines and restrictions where venues are able to provide a safe setting.”

“We’ll continue to make health and safety a top priority as we work towards another year of victories for the GOP in Kentucky,” Lonergan said.

While larger campaigns with funds can buy advertising, that option is not available to everyone, McNee said.

“Ways of making sure voters know about you costs money,” McNee said. “… But for smaller campaigns that can’t go out and buy TV time, it’s difficult.”

For now, campaign forums are being planned in Owensboro. Candance Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, said three forums are scheduled for mid-to-late October.

The Chamber and city Neighborhood Alliance groups are planning a forum for Owensboro mayoral candidates on Oct. 15. A debate for 13th House District candidates Rep. Jim Glenn and former Rep. DJ Johnson is set for Oct. 22. The Chamber’s “Red, White and Blue” candidate forum is scheduled for Oct. 29.

“Right now, we are planning in-person (events), but we’ll wait and see,” Brake said. “What we do at the Chamber is continue to innovate.”

The Chamber is not planning a forum for Owensboro City Commission candidates, but will release a voter guide on the candidates.

“We hope to continue to give voters the opportunity to engage with the candidates,” Brake said.

By Jim Mayse Messenger-Inquirer