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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

How do you campaign during a pandemic?

Illustration by Zoe Fruchter.

Iowa’s primary election for local and statewide candidates is over. Now, campaigning for the general election can begin in earnest. But with public safety precautions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic still in place, this year’s elections will look different than those before.

As of Friday, the state of Iowa has confirmed more than 20,000 cases of COVID-19 and 589 deaths. Thursday, June 4 marked the lowest death toll in Iowa from COVID-19 since April 7, with two deaths.

In Poweshiek County, there have been 92 cases and eight people have died. Incumbent Republican Dave Maxwell, House District 76’s representative since 2013, acknowledged that campaigning will be different this year. “I would say there will be a lot more phone calls and mailing of some sort, which both seem to be very effective,” Maxwell said.

“I think traditional campaigning will also work; I have a pretty large collection of signs that we will want to put out in the area. Other than that, though, door knocking seems like it will be very limited. … Parades will not be happening, which is a shame, as I felt like we usually did a pretty good job participating in those,” he said. Sarah Smith, Maxwell’s Democrat opponent, shared some of the same views, but she also said she’s using social media to connect with the public: “More than ever, I am trying to make sure I have consistent posts on my pages. On Thursdays I read children’s books, because I can’t volunteer at the library for story time, and I really love reading to children,” she said.

She’s also using her platforms to quickly answer the community’s questions. “I am having a session called ‘20 minutes with Sarah’ so that people can come and listen and get to know who I am and know about issues that I am focusing on in the campaign. I am really encouraging people to submit questions so that I can answer people right then and there,” said Smith. Kamal Hammouda, the longtime owner of Grinnell restaurant Relish and independent candidate for HD-76, is taking a more individual approach to his campaign. “When I declared my candidacy, someone asked me how I was going to win, and I said, ‘One vote at a time,’ and that is still true now,” he said. “I am going to do that whether it is by phone or in the park or on my patio talking to every individual one by one. It does not matter how long it takes, that is my method right now. I am not focusing on yard signs or anything that is a typical trap of campaigning.”.

But Hammouda also said he and his team were taking COVID-19 concerns into consideration by developing digital campaigning strategies.

Dawn Driscoll, who won the Republican nomination to replace retiring state senator Tim Kapucian, said that she’s had to change her campaign strategy in light of the current pandemic.

“We were going to run a really hard pavement game, as far as on the road all the time and getting ourselves out there, trying to get in front of as many people as possible. Then, when the pandemic and isolation hit, it was probably about five days in and I thought, we’re going to have to change the direction of the whole entire campaign,” Driscoll said.

Now, Driscoll is focusing on using phone calls to connect with voters. “I think that the strategy is to be as flexible as possible. I still think that it’s such uncharted territory, going into this, and we just have to be prepared to be at home again and run your campaign out of your house instead of out in front of people. It’s unfortunate, but it just makes it that much harder.

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