Candidates for state’s attorney forced to redirect campaigns
Virus concerns wipe out final push ahead of election
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.”