CORONAVIRUS

Campaigns shift to cameras and clicks to reach voters in coronavirus age

Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield, Eddie Mauro and Cal Woods appeared individually at the beginning o
Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield, Eddie Mauro and Cal Woods appeared individually at the beginning of an April 19 online forum for the five Democrats seeking to run against U.S. Senate Joni Ernst in the general election. Two more forums are scheduled with the candidates Sunday, as campaigning switches to virtual platforms because of the coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings.

Remember back in January when every time you turned around there was a presidential hopeful ready to shake a hand, snap a selfie and make a promise?

Well, those days of face-to-face, look-you-in-the-eye campaigning are over. At least for now.

In the age of coronavirus, candidates and voters are staying apart. Now the campaigns are Zoom meetings, YouTube videos and tele-town halls.

“In-person just doesn’t make sense,” says Ed Cranston, chairman of the Johnson County Democratic Party.

The Johnson County grassroots Democratric group, Potluck Insurgency, hosted a U.S. Senate candidate forum April 19 via Zoom, a cloud-based software platform used by business for teleconferences and by individuals to stay in touch with friends and family.

Cranston was the Zoom debate’s producer, and his wife, Jane, moderated the five-candidate forum from her kitchen table.

At least 105 people “attended” the forum, and the forum has been viewed more than 200 times on YouTube.

The winner of the June 2 Democratic primary election will face Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in the November general election.

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Virtual campaigning is a dramatic change for both voters and candidates, said Benton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Rosemary Schwartz, “and those candidates embracing this change will do better.”

The lack of traditional, in-person campaign activities undoubtedly will benefit better-known, better-financed candidates, Schwartz said.

That also applies to the general election contest against Ernst, who, according to polls, has much higher name identification with Iowa voters than any of the Democrats seeking to challenge her in November.

Incumbents generally have an advantage in name ID and campaign dollars, Cranston said, and that probably is enhanced by the new campaign dynamics.

“It no doubt makes being heard a greater challenge,” he said. “But if you’re a regular Democrat, you’re getting regular communications from the campaigns.”

TWO FORUMS SUNDAY

Democrats will have a couple of opportunities this weekend to hear from their five Senate hopefuls — Michael Franken of Sioux City, Kimberly Graham of Indianola, Theresa Greenfield and Eddie Mauro, both of Des Moines, and Cal Woods of West Des Moines.

The Southwest Iowa Democrats will host a 90-minute forum Sunday that will be live on Zoom and then livestreamed on Facebook, according to Chris Adcock, chairwoman of the Page County Democrats.

“I have a gut feeling this is how it is going to go for the time being,” she said about distance-campaigning.

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To register, click here, To watch the forum, visit https://www.facebook.com/southwestiowademocrats/.

Adcock and others are learning as they go, so the forum will be rudimentary.

Just as the Johnson County Democrats did, the Southwest Iowa Democrats will have one candidate appear on-screen at a time.

“We’re all new to this. I don’t think we can handle a debate” that would have more back-and-forth between the candidates, Adcock said.

Later Sunday, Pottawattamie Democrats will host the candidates for a forum from 5 to 7 p.m. It will be livestreamed at www.facebook.com/pottawattamiecountydems.

It’s hard to predict how many people will be watching the forums, Adcock said. The Southwest Iowa Democrats’ forum will have a rural focus, and Adcock thinks that will help attract voters from outside Iowa.

“We may do watch parties later so more people see it,” she said.

Cranston noted that many Iowans are sheltering at home, which may give them more opportunity to watch the forums.

“Many have more time on their hands, and the candidates are talking about the issues they are dealing with,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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