Campaigning Amid Coronavirus: How They’re Staying In Front Of Iowans

By Elizabeth Meyer

March 16, 2020

Every campaign, from president on down, must adjust to a new normal: the virtual campaign trail.

Sunday’s presidential debate was held in a TV studio with no live audience and both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have turned to the internet to connect with voters.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio postponed their primary elections.

Iowa’s primary, in which we vote for federal, state and local candidates, is slated for June 2.

Theresa Greenfield, a candidate for U.S. Senate, was in the midst of her “Hear it from the Heartland” tour when her campaign announced Monday they were postponing in-person events and instructing staff to work from home.

“I hope you’re all healthy and staying safe,” said Greenfield, Monday in a video message. “I sure wish I could be out on the trail criss-crossing the state, meeting with each of you personally, but I am staying home and following the advice of public health officials, and I sure hope you do the same.”

Fellow Democrats Kimberly Graham, Eddie Mauro, Michael Franken and Cal Woods also were making the rounds across the state to make the case why they are best suited to go up against Sen. Joni Ernst in November.

Now they all are off the campaign trail, turning largely to the reach of social media to quickly connect them with voters across all 99 counties.

“It’s unfortunate why we have to do it, certainly. But I don’t view the execution of going in a more virtual, digital world at all to be a drawback,” Franken told Starting Line Tuesday morning. “Actually, in terms of outreach opportunities to inform and discuss with the broader foundational portion of the electorate, I think this is a significant advancement. It’s a huge time savings opportunity, and I think it also encourages a better interaction. Instead of a more regional approach to discussion, it’s become broader statewide as people dial-in to these virtual town halls that we’re planning.”

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The first in Franken’s “Virtual Town Halls” series is 11 a.m. Saturday on Facebook.

“Planned initiatives will include the Virtual County Convention series, an Activist Hub — where campaign staff, organizers, and supporters can engage with each other — a virtual phone bank, and other digital campaign activities,” said Aaron Slutkin, Franken’s communications director. “We are committed both to helping reduce the spread of COVID-19, and to continuing our engagement with Iowans across the state.”

Between 10:30 a.m. today and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Graham has eight virtual town halls scheduled on Facebook by county, though anyone is welcome to join.

Graham and her campaign are the most active on social media among her Democratic competitors, and over the last several days the candidate has signed numerous posts “kg” as she shares anecdotes on Twitter of physically vulnerable Americans asking for people to stay home and help stop the spread of coronavirus.

A March Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll delivered some good news for Democrats. Between February 2019 and early March of this year, Ernst’s approval rating dropped from 57% to 47%. However, the poll also showed an average 73% of Iowa adults do not know the Democratic candidates.

“The biggest takeaway for the Democrats right now is people don’t know who they are,” said Brianne Pfannenstiel on Friday’s episode of Iowa Press. “They’re unknown to about 70% of Iowans. When we asked people to say do you think of them favorably or unfavorably, the majority say we don’t know enough to say.”

Couple low name recognition with social distancing and these candidates face a whole new set of challenges.

“I’m very concerned about that,” said Woods, a Des Moines contractor who launched his candidacy in December. “I think Iowans expect candidates to come to their town and tell them why they’re running and what they’re going to fight for. Since we’re severely limited in that, sure, that’s a big concern.”

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Mauro already has held virtual town halls centered on paid family leave and coronavirus. At 5 p.m. today on Facebook he will hold a “Virtual Pints & Politics.” At 10 a.m. Wednesday he will talk on the social platform about Universal Basic Income, and Thursday he will host a “Virtual Meet & Greet.”

Last week, the Des Moines businessman and philanthropist released a six-point plan with the steps he believes must be taken to combat the coronavirus outbreak, including a new National Security Council director of pandemic response; Universal Basic Income for all Americans over 18; paid family leave; and spending flexibility within states’ Medicaid programs.

“I’m running for U.S. Senate because I’m ready to lead and have the fight to take on the most complex challenges facing this great nation,” Mauro said. “I have always had faith that our country can work together with strong leadership in our most pressing times and that time is now.”


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 3/17/20



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