Up until a couple of weeks ago, it was business as usual when it came to Indiana Politics.
The primary was less than 40 days away. The campaigns were getting ready to kick things into high gear, and COVID-19, aka the coronavirus, was in the news, but not necessarily on our minds.
And that’s when the political gods threw everyone a curveball and COVID-19 showed up in Indiana.
And then things got to the point where Governor Eric Holcomb and state officials, as part of a series of steps to protect Hoosiers, such as a stay in place order, encouraging social distancing and moving the May 5 primary to June 2.
“We postponed all planned fundraising, events, and canvassing. We are adjusting our plans on a real-time basis,” 5th District candidate Victoria Spartz told Indy Politics. “These are very challenging times, but all adversities make us stronger in the end.”
Spartz was not the only candidate who had to make some adjustments.
“Our campaign was the first to cancel in-person events putting the health and safety of Hoosiers first. Last week we launched a virtual town hall series to continue to interact with voters during the pandemic,” said Kory Wood, a spokesperson for State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell’s 5th District congressional campaign. “Additionally, we launched a ‘Together, We Overcome’ initiative aimed at bringing our community together in this time of need.
Sixteen Republicans are running in CD 5, and “adaption” is the word of the day. “Campaigns always have to adapt. “The biggest factor causing adaptation this time is very unusual,” stated political scientist professor Andy Downs of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University Ft. Wayne. “In the end, though, good campaigns are better at adapting than others. That is part of what makes them good campaigns.”
And although the coronavirus has changed the way they campaign, a number of them told Indy Politics the transition was not too difficult, and some have seen it as an opportunity to highlight their backgrounds to the voters.
“Beth [Henderson] is utilizing her registered nurse skills and business experiences to help our people through these medical, financial, and emotionally challenging times,” noted campaign spokesperson Rachel Coverdale.
“In support of our’ shelter in place’ guidelines and to help stop the spread of COVID-19, we are following proper protocols,” said Mark Warner of the Chuck Dietzen campaign. “Our campaigning has been moved to digital methods along with phone calls. All fundraising events, as well as meet the candidate forums and gatherings, will be rescheduled as time allows once Indiana is back to a normal state of operation.”
For some like Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, whose campaign called for moving the postponing and moving the primary a couple of days before the Governor made the official announcement, COVID-19 had a personal impact. “This virus is a nasty bug. We have a family member outside of Indiana recovering from it,” he said. “It began with a sore throat and fever, and eventually difficulty breathing – not something to be trifled with.”
But how will a near 30-day delay in campaigning impact the candidates?
Downs says to expect mixed results.
“In generic terms, a delay should help campaigns relying on lots of direct voter contact. Unfortunately, for them, people are supposed to limit direct contact with people. Campaigns relying on lots of direct voter contact can look for novel ways to interact, but many of those methods will require voters to be more active participants than they are when they just open their door when a candidate knocks,” he said. “The delay should provide time to work on other forms of voter contact. The amount of time likely will not be enough for campaigns lacking other resources such as funds and talent.”