The new normal has thrown their organizations for a major loop in an enormously consequential election year, rendering traditional voter contact programs moot as people follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to hunker down at home.
Federal and state officials are working to modify or delay elections so that voters can cast their ballots without fear of contracting covid-19. And campaigns are scrambling to build out digital programs and shifting their voter contact strategies.
Town halls, rallies, fundraisers, and canvassing – in the traditional sense – have all been put on hold, with staffers devising creative ways to keep campaigns running online and through Skype, Zoom video conferencing and FaceTime.
- Former vice president Joe Biden held a virtual town hall last week that included Vivek Murthy, the former U.S, surgeon general – a member of Biden’s public health advisory committee. But the event was riddled with technical problems.
- “We’re going to overcome this moment. But it’s going to require us all to be prudent and proactive. This is the responsibility of each of us to protect our families, our co-workers and our neighbors — especially those who are most vulnerable to serious health outcomes," Biden said in a clearer video of the town hall later released by his campaign. “Campaign events are no exception. That’s why we’re connecting virtually today. We’re going to have to get better at the technical side of this."
- Sen. Bernie Sander (I-Vt.) held his first digital rally last night featuring a star-studded line up:
Some campaigns, however, are better equipped for the transition than others. Those who have already invested in robust digital programs are well positioned to continue business close to usual. One of the most innovative programs created in 2020, however, was for a former Democratic presidential contender.
- Sliding into your DMs: Prior to dropping out of the race, former South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg deployed a “digital door knocking” program ahead of Super Tuesday. Buttigieg's online engagement director, Stefan Smith, enlisted over 1,000 volunteers to scrape Buttigieg's followers on social media platforms and make contact with those followers through direct messaging.
- “We know there won't be large rallies, offices filled with volunteers making phone calls — so how do you get uncommitted nonpolitical people involved with the process? … How do we put organizers as close to voters as possible? Nothing is closer than their back pocket,” Smith told Power Up on Monday.
- “It's meeting people where they are and where they are in this moment is online — we just have to meet them there — that's it,” Smith added.
Another strategy utilized by former and current campaigns to increase voter turnout from home is relational organizing, which calls on a volunteer to harness their personal network and contact list to reach out to somebody they already know and ask for their vote.
- California Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D), who is running to fill Katie Hill's seat in a California special election for the 25th district, is fast approaching a runoff in May against Republican Mike Garcia. With her volunteers and staffers now working from home, the campaign has transitioned to relational organizing so that volunteers “can just open up their contact list and call all of the people who live in their phone in the area,” the campaign told Power Up. They're also using remote voter contact tools that allow them to text with voters.
- Another change they've made: The campaign is offering “uncapped family and paid leave” to staffers during the crisis — a reflection of Smith's policy platform, her campaign told us.
Another ex-presidential contender, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, is providing current campaigns who have the budget with a road map for smarter digital engagement. While his team was derided for some of the content, they enlisted paid influencers and micro-influencers to post and persuade different audiences in support of Bloomberg's short-lived candidacy.
- “Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world,” his campaign said in February about its sponsored content operation. “While a meme strategy may be new to presidential politics, we’re betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trump’s powerful digital operation.”
- “What his digital operation did well is understand the power of the micro influencer — they were not going after blue check marks,” Smith said, referring to the those officially verified by Twitter. “That means 10,000 followers on Instagram was enough to be considered an influencer. Networks get small in a pandemic, so those key people are not the most popular on the Internet but the most popular in their community and become way more valuable.”
The robust digital operation run by the Trump campaign is well documented. The president's campaign released a statement last week touting efforts to include “virtual events with top surrogates, holding virtual events with top surrogates, utilizing online platforms to train thousands of members of the Trump Neighborhood Team, activating the massive volunteer network to make calls to rally support for the President in states voting soon, and increasing online voter registration efforts of Trump rally attendees identified as not currently registered to vote.”
- “With our field organization largely built out and over half a million volunteers already engaged, we are in an incredibly strong position to activate an aggressive digital and virtual political operation,” said Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman who has been tested for covid-19 after experiencing symptoms.
- The campaign also released “Army for Trump” website earlier this month with instructions for those who want to volunteer as a “digital activist.” And it is providing virtual trainings this week for new volunteers on using “call-from-home applications,” per the campaign.
Ben Wessel, the executive director of the progressive group NextGen America, told Power Up that this moment is an opportunity for campaigns and state and federal officials to modernize the election system by implementing online voter registration and ensuring that as many people as possible have ballot access.
And with young people having more time on their hands due to school closures and mitigation efforts, Wessel said that NextGen has a “very captive audience … full of digital natives.”
- “We've been preparing for this,” Wessel told us. “Young people live their lives online and on their phones. Now, it's the only place they are living their lives … we'll lean into tactics we've been executing for a long time so that peer to peer voter conversations continue. ”
MARKETS PLUNGE IN WORST DAY SINCE 1987: “Fears that policymakers have not done enough to avert a protracted economic downturn deepened a sense of national crisis Monday and sent stocks to their worst single-day losses since the Black Monday crash of 1987,” our colleague David J. Lynch reports.
Here's how historically bad the day was: “The Dow Jones industrial average closed down nearly 13 percent in late trading before closing at 20,188, down more than 2,997 for the day,” our colleague writes. “That marked the largest one-day point decline in U.S. history, though in percentage terms Monday’s 13 percent loss was topped by the nearly 23 percent decline on Oct. 19, 1987. All three of the Dow’s 2,000-point daily losses have occurred in the past week.
- The Dow plunged nearly 3,000 points “after [Trump] warned that disruption from the coronavirus pandemic could last through August and issued new public health guidance, saying Americans should limit gatherings to no more than 10 people,” our colleague writes.
But: "Stock futures were only marginally higher Tuesday morning, giving back more than 1,000 points in after-hours trading, after Wall Street suffered massive losses on Monday amid concerns over the economic impact from the coronavirus outbreak.Around 5:40 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures indicated an implied open of less than 50 points. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures were also higher," CNBC's Fred Imbert reports.
- Those moves came after Trump tweeted:
On The Hill
CONGRESS BEGINS WORK ON NEW RELIEF BILL: “Congressional leaders and White House officials began work Monday on a massive new coronavirus relief bill that could contain major economic stimulus for corporations and consumers,” our colleagues Erica Werner, Paul Kane, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report.
The legislation could cost hundreds of billions of dollars: “Senate Democrats also have an ambitious wish-list. Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed a $750 billion package to address everything from hospital capacity and loan forbearance to treatment affordability and remote learning,” our colleagues write. Republicans think the total cost of their proposal could be even higher.
- House Democratic committee chairs discussed further ideas “including: cash payments to individuals; infrastructure investments; expanded Medicaid spending; anti-price-gouging measures; airline industry support; and assistance to local transit agencies and Amtrak, according to a person on the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it,” our colleague write, adding the list is still evolving.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and GOPers are eager to craft this bill: The Senate GOP was mostly shut out of the last two negotiations over aid packages. But with the House on recess, the Senate could play a far greater role in shaping the proposal given the urgency for Congress to act.
But the Hill still needs to sort out the current aid package: “The legislation — which passed just before 1 a.m. Saturday after a flurry of last-minute negotiations — required technical changes that threatened to hold up Senate action. Those legislative fixes were hammered out Monday and passed by the House Monday evening,” our colleagues write.
- Smooth sailing?: While some Senate Republicans have expressed concerns about that measure, administration officials are optimistic they can get it through the Chamber and to Trump's desk with minimal drama.
At The White House
NEW TONE FROM TRUMP: “Trump for weeks dismissed the danger of the novel coronavirus … And then on Monday, nearly eight weeks after the first coronavirus case was reported in the United States, Trump conveyed that he at last recognizes the magnitude of the crisis that is threatening lives across the nation, disrupting the economy and fundamentally upending the daily rhythms of American life,” our colleague Philip Rucker reports.
- What changed?: British researchers said 2.2 million Americans could die if more was not done to stop the spread of the virus through drastic restrictions on social gatherings, the New York Times's Sheri Fink reports. “The lead author of the study, Neil Ferguson, an epidemiology professor, said in an interview that his group had shared their projections with the White House Task Force about a week ago and that an early copy of the report was sent over the weekend,” the Times writes.
Fauci QOTD: “I’ll say it over and over again. When you’re dealing with an emerging infectious diseases outbreak, you are always behind where you think you are if you think that today reflects where you really are,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters at the daily covid-19 task force briefing.
Frustration from nation's governors spilled over earlier in the day: “Trump told a group of governors on Monday morning that they should not wait for the federal government to fill the growing demand for respirators needed to treat people with coronavirus,” the Times's Jonathan Martin reports.
- “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Trump said, according to audio of call obtained by the Times.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE DMV: As of Monday, 101 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, our colleagues Dana Hedgpeth and John Woodrow Cox report. And for answers to all of your virus-related local questions, make sure to save our colleague Jenna Portnoy's guide.
As of last night:
- In D.C.: Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has ordered all restaurants and bars in the District closed for on-site service — you can still order takeout or delivery. Gyms, health clubs and movie theaters will start closing today. Salons and barbershops will remain open, LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Health Department told our colleagues, because they can stagger appointments to limit the number of people inside at one time.
- In Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has ordered all bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms are closed. You can still order takeout or delivery.
- In Virginia: There are currently no restrictions on restaurants or bars. Arlington County is strongly advising establishments to end dine-in service, but doesn't have any power to enforce the measure, our colleagues Patricia Sullivan and Gregory S. Schneider report. “In response, Gov. Ralph Northam’s spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky told The Post: ‘This is a fluid and very quickly changing situation.’”
What else you need to know:
- There have been a number of changes to local transportation: If you need to get around, our colleague Luz Lazo has you covered.
- The Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for the first time in over 100 years: “The court was scheduled to hold arguments on six days over two weeks, with the session culminating on April 1 with a highly anticipated case: [Trump’s] challenge of efforts by congressional committees and a New York prosecutor to subpoena his financial records,” our colleague Robert Barnes reports. The last time the court postponed oral arguments was when the 1918 influenza epidemic hit Washington.
- The White House Easter Egg Roll has been canceled: “The health and safety of all Americans must be the first priority, especially right now,” first lady Melania Trump said in the statement,” our colleague Dana Hedgpeth reports.
- Our colleagues Griff Witte and Katie Zezima have a great look at the GOP governor who has become “a national guide to the crisis:" Ohio's Mike DeWine (R): “As a global pandemic each day transforms the unthinkable into America’s new reality, the path is being guided by an unlikely leader: the short and bespectacled 73-year-old Republican governor of America’s seventh-most-populous state.”
ITALY'S HISTORIC DISASTER: “In the part of Italy hit hardest by the coronavirus, the crematorium has started operating 24 hours a day … The local newspaper's daily obituary section has grown from two or three pages to 10, sometimes listing more than 150 names, in what the top editor likens to ‘war bulletins,’” our colleagues Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli report from Rome.
- The outbreak is so bad that the dying are sealed off even from their families: “Many funerals are taking place with only a priest and a funeral home employee present, while family members face restrictions on gathering, remain in quarantine or are too sick themselves,” our colleagues write. “So many have died that there is a waiting list for burial and cremation.”
THE U.K. IS TAKING A DIFFERENT APPROACH: “Britain's neighbors in Europe are shutting down the continent to confront [the coronavirus]: locking pubs in Dublin and cafes in Paris, closing schools, enacting curfews and enforcing quarantines not seen since the Middle Ages,” our colleague William Booth reports from London.
- But the pubs are open in London: “Most schools, museums and restaurants are, too,” our colleague writes. “But that go-slow approach by Britain began to shift on Monday when Prime Minister Johnson encouraged his fellow citizens to avoid ‘all non-essential contact with others,’ to work from home and to self-isolate if they are elderly.” The measures are voluntary for now.
- Johnson and his team are worried about acting too quickly: “They have worried that asking citizens to stay at home and avoid social contact is ‘very difficult to maintain over a long time,' [Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told reporters]."
WADDLE WE DO WITHOUT THEM: Despite being closed off to the public, some residents of Chicago's Shed Aquarium were able to exercise their happy feet.