Can­di­dates for state’s at­tor­ney forced to re­di­rect cam­paigns

Virus con­cerns wipe out fi­nal push ahead of elec­tion

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - By Lolly Bowean [email protected]­bune. com

They had planned to at­tend the St. Pa­trick’s Day pa­rades and fes­tiv­i­ties, host ral­lies and make ap­pear­ances at bars, restau­rants and train sta­tions to en­cour­age vot­ers to turn out on Elec­tion Day.

But af­ter nearly all pub­lic events can­celed and many restau­rants and busi­nesses have been clos­ing up as a pre­cau­tion due to the threat of the coro­n­avirus, the Demo­cratic can­di­dates for Cook County state’s at­tor­ney were left scram­bling to re­di­rect their cam­paign strate­gies and fig­ure out their elec­tion night plans, sev­eral cam­paign of­fi­cials said.

Con­cerns about the coro­n­avirus have con­trib­uted to a surge in vote-by-mail ap­pli­ca­tions and the re­lo­ca­tion of more than 50 polling places in Chicago.

Hun­dreds of elec­tion judges who work at polls in Cook County have can­celed their as­sign­ments. And the pan­demic also had led elec­tion of­fi­cials to plan ex­tra pre­cau­tions at polling places, in­clud­ing deep clean­ings and plen­ti­ful sup­plies of hand san­i­tizer.

Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx can­celed a re­cent event she planned with African Amer­i­can women sup­port­ers and has de­cided not to host a large elec­tion night watch party be­cause of the cri­sis, her spokes­woman, Clau­dia Tris­tan, said. In­stead, Foxx will be sur­rounded by staff and fam­ily and host a smaller news con­fer­ence Tues­day night.

Her op­po­nent Bill Con­way also is re­con­sid­er­ing the large-scale watch night party his team was plan­ning at a ma­jor hotel, of­fi­cials with his cam­paign said.

“We’re re­group­ing,” Con­way’s spokes­woman El­iza Glezer said. “We don’t want to host any big events as has been ad­vised. So we’re try­ing to de­cide our next best moves.”

Donna More had planned to at­tend the South Side St. Pa­trick’s Day pa­rade and shake hands this week­end, she said, but then that event was can­celed. She still was plan­ning to take a walk through neigh­bor­hoods with the Blue Is­land mayor on Satur­day and then at­tend an af­ter­noon march with fam­i­lies af­fected by vi­o­lence, her staff said.

“We will still ven­ture that way on Sunday and stop in the pubs,” she said. “This has changed life for a lot of us. Peo­ple are telecom­mut­ing, schools are go­ing on­line. You have to be flex­i­ble.”

Still, her team can­celed her elec­tion night gath­er­ing and said she would host a con­fer­ence call with her sup­port­ers that night.

Typ­i­cally, the week­end be­fore Elec­tion Day is the busiest for can­di­dates as they make their fi­nal push to get vot­ers to cast bal­lots for them. Can­di­dates try to be as vis­i­ble as pos­si­ble, but the self-im­posed quar­an­tines and so­cial dis­tanc­ing that put re­stric­tions on shak­ing hands and touch­ing has in­stantly changed just how tra­di­tional cam­paign­ing looks.

“A big part of a local cam­paign is the door-todoor per­sonal touch,” said Chris Mooney, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago. “It works for the can­di­dates to knock on doors ... then you get a lot of cam­paign meet­ings and they work in close quar­ters, there are ral­lies. Th­ese don’t lend them­selves to so­cial dis­tanc­ing.”

Now all the tra­di­tional meth­ods have been dis­rupted, Mooney said. The cam­paigns may not know how to adapt.

“The can­di­dates will have to fig­ure it out and do it on the fly,” he said. “This is new ter­ri­tory. It’s a wild card thrown in there.”

The can­di­dates will have to re­tool their ap­proaches if they want to reach vot­ers and mo­bi­lize them be­fore the elec­tion, said Ron Holmes, a Chicago-based po­lit­i­cal strate­gist. So now, the out­reach likely will switch from in-per­son to dig­i­tal, he said.

“Cam­paigns that pro­moted vot­ing by mail and early vot­ing will find them­selves bet­ter po­si­tioned,” said Holmes, who has worked on dozens of cam­paigns in­clud­ing for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Kwame Raoul. “The cam­paigns are go­ing to have to change their styles. Those that have built out dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture — if they can talk to vot­ers on TV, Face­book Live or YouTube, they will get their mes­sage out.”

The cam­paigns likely will halt their can­vass­ing and pub­lic ap­pear­ances, Holmes said. In­stead, they will have to make calls and send text mes­sages if they want to reach vot­ers who are in their homes.

But this mo­ment of cri­sis also could shift vot­ers’ sup­port, said Wil­liam How­ell, a Univer­sity of Chicago po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor. In the time of a na­tional disaster or pan­demic, vot­ers typ­i­cally want sta­bil­ity, con­sis­tency, com­pe­tency and ex­pe­ri­ence. That makes them less will­ing to take a chance on a new face or new voice, he said.

“Peo­ple with name recog­ni­tion get an ad­van­tage be­cause the oth­ers will have a harder time get­ting their names into cir­cu­la­tion,” he said.

“There isn’t an easy sub­sti­tute for di­rectly reach­ing vot­ers. The can­di­dates can try to use their in­for­mal net­works and reach out re­motely, but those are cheap sub­sti­tutes to in-per­son con­tact.”

On Thursday, Foxx’s team used her so­cial me­dia ac­counts to re­mind res­i­dents that vot­ing by mail was still an op­tion. On Friday, the team used In­sta­gram and Twit­ter to re­mind vot­ers that early-vot­ing hours had been ex­tended and they could avoid some crowds by get­ting to polling places early.

Nearly all of the can­di­dates posted video clips on their Face­book and Twit­ter pages on Friday, some tout­ing their own plat­forms, oth­ers crit­i­ciz­ing their op­po­nents.

For former Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti, his spokesman said they are hop­ing to pro­ceed with their elec­tion night gath­er­ing and cam­paign plans. But they were still wait­ing to find out if their pre­ferred venue would even be open and avail­able and if the events they wanted to at­tend over the week­end were still tak­ing place.

“Ev­ery­thing is up in the air at the mo­ment,” his spokesman, Nathaniel Hol­comb, said Thursday af­ter­noon. “We’re tak­ing pre­cau­tions and wash­ing our hands. Any­thing that has been (or­ga­nized) by us, we haven’t can­celed.”

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