Campaign season looks a lot different this year.
With social distancing and little in the way of public events, candidates have been adjusting their campaign strategies due to COVID-19.
The candidates running for state representative seats in districts 44, 47, 50, Senate District 19 and governor continue to campaign but are taking different approaches to limit the spread of the virus.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said the circumstances of the pandemic have forced candidates like himself to find alternative ways to campaign and be accessible to Boone County voters. He noted that many of the big community events that give politicians a way to reach voters have been canceled.
“So, you’ve had to find other ways to get in front of people,” Rowden said. “Social media is a component of that. Obviously, raising a bunch of money and being able to get your message out on TV and radio and newspaper and via mail is probably the most valuable. It’s always valuable, but I think in a cycle where face-to-face contact — there’s just much much less of it — I think that fundraising aspect is really important.”
Rowden’s Democratic opponent, Judy Baker, has adapted her campaign approach by attending online events like the League of Women’s Voters Election Forum and the Senate District 19 Debate.
Adrian Plank, the Democrat challenging Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, said he has been knocking on constituents’ doors despite the state party advising against it.
“I’ll tell you, I started knocking on doors — sounds scary, doesn’t it?” Plank said, adding that it isn’t, because he takes precautions. He said he wears a new mask when going door-to-door, puts on sanitizer and stands 7-10 feet away from constituents’ doors after knocking.
“And I can tell you that the people that I’m talking to are excited to see — even if they lean right — they’re even happy to see people because they’ve been cooped up in their homes because most of the doors I knock are on the rural side,” Plank said.
Basye has made an effort to attend both online and in-person events to campaign, including the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Election Forum where he attended in person, and the League of Women’s Voters Election Forum online.
Mike Zweifel, Boone County Republicans committee member, said some candidates like Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, have been receiving sign requests from voters at a higher rate than in past elections.
“I think candidates are doing their best to adapt to the circumstances and we’re not, at least on the Republican side, we’re not abandoning going door to door,” Zweifel said. “We’re just adapting to make sure we’re safe on it.”
Lyra Noce, chairperson for the Boone County Democrats, said some candidates, like Baker, have been doing literature drops and attending online events to avoid speaking with constituents face to face but still making themselves available to them.
Noce said there are still some in-person events but that they are happening less often than in past elections.
“There have been more Zoom calls, like Zoom candidate forums,” Noce said. “We have done a Facebook Live with candidates so that they can still answer constituent questions and be able to interact with people online.”
Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, said she has made a great effort to attend in-person events around the 50th District and listen to constituent concerns.
She said having conversations with constituents has helped her create legislative ideas she hopes will lead to solutions.
“So one thing that I think is incredibly important, and that I heard when I was running for office the first time around, was the importance of state representatives being very accessible to their constituents,” she said. “And that is one thing that you can do in a state representative race, because the districts currently are feasible to where you can actually be in touch and attend events and be there in the district.”
Walsh’s Democratic opponent, Kari Chesney, said she has been hesitant to do any in-person events due to her medical background.
Chesney has participated in virtual events including the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Town Hall, the League of Women’s Voters Election Forum and the Civically Engaged African Americans of Columbia Political Forum, and she plans to continue attending events remotely in the coming weeks.
Chesney also said she has been doing many coordinated campaign literature drops as an alternative to knocking on constituents’ doors.
“Instead of canvassing door to door, we’re doing more of the dropping door hangers and things off at people’s homes so we are not face-to-face with everybody,” Chesney said.
On the state level, Kevin Donohoe, spokesperson for Democratic Gov. candidate Nicole Galloway, said Galloway has adapted her campaign since the start of the general election.
Galloway requires masks at any in-person events she attends across the state.
“When the pandemic began, our campaign quickly adapted by moving or organizing events and fundraising online,” Donohoe said. “We’ve hosted Zoom town halls with communities across the state about the urgent need to expand access to health care during this pandemic and put our state back on the road to economic recovery. We’ve built a top-notch digital organizing program that has allowed us to innovatively reach voters online and on their phones.”
Outside of Gov. Mike Parson’s quarantine due to contraction of the coronavirus, he has made an effort to attend in-person events.
Since his COVID-19 recovery, Parson has attended in-person events including the gubernatorial debate at the Missouri Theatre on Friday.
Rowden said there are many reasons besides politics that have him and others hoping there isn’t another election cycle that looks like this.
“It has been tough,” Rowden said. “But it’s been tough on a lot of people. Obviously, I think that the ramifications and the impact of COVID has just been devastating for so many people from a health perspective and kids in schools and whatever social ramifications in the short term and long term exist.”
Reporters Adam Jackson, Hannah Norton and Mark Ossolinkski contributed to this report.