Election 2020 vs. coronavirus: Candidates are mixing up their ground games

No large rallies, handshakes, kissing babies
Posted at 4:30 PM, Nov 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-02 20:06:00-05

In the 8th Congressional District, Congressman Warren Davidson and challenger Dr. Vanessa Enoch have found themselves with a common adversary.

The novel coronavirus.

“It’s very different," said Enoch, a Democrat with a PhD in public policy and social change. "In 2018, we canvassed and we did door-to-door canvassing. And we spoke to people on the campaign trail. This time around it’s been a little more difficult. We’re not doing any canvassing.”

Davidson, a Republican and Army veteran, agreed that things are certainly not the same this year.

“I mean the whole cycle’s been different and early voting shows that,“ Davidson said. As of Nov. 1, Butler County has seen 107,220 early votes cast, according to the Butler County Board of Elections. About 65,000 requested ballots remained outstanding.

But, the 8th Congressional District is more than Butler County. It also includes Preble, Darke, Clark, Miami and Mercer Counties. It is about a two-hour drive from Mercer County to Butler County. With COVID-19 a factor in political campaigning in 2020, political candidates are finding that the virus is changing their ground game this November. This year there are no large rallies, no door-to-door canvassing, no shaking hands or kissing babies. Even campaign watch parties, in some cases, will be via Zoom.

“We want to keep our team safe, we want to keep our neighbors safe, and so we’re not knocking on doors," Enoch said. "But, we are taking our literature to all of the households, our targeted households."

She added that despite the distance, she hasn't had trouble recruiting volunteers. They've figured out a way to work around the virus.

“We take our literature to the homes of our volunteers who don’t want to interact with people and they’re the ones stuffing (literature) bags," she said. "They’re the ones stuffing envelopes. We’ve catered the campaign around the challenges that we’re facing with the coronavirus.”

Similarly, Davidson also said volunteers want to be involved, despite the pandemic.

“We'll have people that go out and flush poll locations and put information out at poll sites or signs,” Davidson said. “It’s amazing. People just (have) a huge appetite to get out and work.”

Davidson spent some time this weekend at Butler County GOP headquarters in Liberty Township. He also volunteered with Butler Tech students from Ross High School unloading food boxes. Davidson said one strategy is to spread his message via word of mouth.

“Spending time with people and answering their questions, getting to know them and frankly doing that with people who can also go and talk to 20, 30 other people,” he said.

In addition, he said the GOP support has been a factor in getting his message out to voters.

“The Butler County Party’s very strong. Our precinct captains have actually been walking, knocking on doors for months now and they’re continuing to flush the polls,” he said. “When they see somebody’s asked for an absentee ballot, they’ll push and say have you returned your ballot?”

Meanwhile, both candidates say they have utilized virtual town halls as part of their ground game. Enoch said she has spent time traveling the district physically and virtually.

“We’ve done town halls on education, we did a town hall with the farmers, we did town halls on climate," Enoch said. "Our town halls consisted of people from across the district, who talked about issues that are of concern to them."

In some cases, she believes the town halls have helped her contact voters.

“From the standpoint of allowing us to be able to reach more people across the district, the coronavirus has been a benefit from that standpoint,” she said.