Campaigning during a crisis

  • 16 April 2020
  • NormanL

We've seen that American politics can survive pandemics and other crises. That's good. But what about political campaigns? It's possible some efforts are going to have to rethink a lot of what they do -- from skippng the in-person political conventions and big funsraisers, to ditching rallies and speaking tours (while ramping-up some tested-and-true campaign workhorses):

“If you’re trying to do politics without crowds, with news media trained to look at crowds, you’re taking the apple out of apple pie,” Murphy says. “The mass rally is done, and geography is done, because the new geography is the Internet. So the question is, how do you come up with original and inventive approaches?”

Joe Trippi, who has been a key Democratic campaign strategist for some 40 years, was part of a campaign that did just that, when Howard Dean’s 1984 dark-horse campaign turned to the Internet to build a massive fundraising machine.

“In ’04 we did the Internet because we had to,” Trippi says. We had to create a whole different way of doing it. The necessity is there again”—but this time, it’s a necessity that goes to the heart of campaign tools.

For instance, mass rallies aren’t just held for the spectacle; they’re places where phone and e-mail contacts are gathered, fueling parties’ fundraising and their get-out-the-vote operations. Visits to key states are where contributors are invited to meet with the candidate, and where local news can be counted on to provide extensive, mostly favorable coverage.

So what communications tools could work in a world where these traditional elements are sidelined? One might be a form almost considered obsolete: television ads.

As well as direct mail -- a mainstay of successful political campaigns for decades.

The question, then, isn't so much if campaigns will be able to contact and motivate voters. It's if campaigns know how to use the tools at their disposal effectively...just like it's always been, virus or no virus.