Running for office during a pandemic

Under the best of circumstances running for office is never an easy proposition. There is a campaign plan to develop, money to raise, volunteers to recruit and organize.  You might also need to spend some time on an issue platform.  So much to do, so little time.

The coronavirus pandemic that the country and the world are experiencing adds many more complications. Petitioning and door-to-door campaigning is out.  So are rallies and fundraising events.  For some campaigns TV advertising and social media advertising will serve as the main means of communicating with voters, along with some traditional snail mail.

One obstacle to effective campaigning will stand out this year: regardless of the media that a campaign employs, how will you get people to focus on issues and candidates when their minds are so distracted by more important, personal aspects of life like income, paying bills and buying food?

On a national level it is pretty clear that the presidential election will be a referendum on Donald Trump. Issue number one will be his management of the federal response to the pandemic.

The daily TV press rallies appear to be doing Trump more harm than good, but because he has an obsessive need to be the center of attention, he will never be able to wean himself off of the TV show. Along the way it is sad to see that professionals like Dr. Deborah Birx might be approaching the Stockholm syndrome as she rationalizes Trump-preferred policies.

If the national broadcast and cable networks continue to cover the Trump rallies it is time that they provide equal time for Joe Biden. Trump’s ratings and level of public trust are falling, so it may be worth noting the old political truism: “never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”

On a congressional level Western New York is watching a NY27 doubleheader that will conclude on June 23rd.  The special election will be held to fill the remainder of the term of former Republican Congressman Chris Collins, and a Republican primary is on the ballot for the party November nomination for the same seat.

NY27 is the most Republican district in the state. Democrat Nate McMurray came close to defeating Collins in 2018 following Collins’ indictment.  This year McMurray faces former Republican moderate and current Trump supporter Chris Jacobs.  Both campaigns are well funded.  The boost that McMurray might have received if the special election was held as originally planned on April 28th is gone since there will be no Democratic presidential primary fight to bring out voters.  Jacobs has the advantage in the special election.

The Republican primary for the full two year term includes Jacobs, attorney Beth Parlato and Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw. Jacobs and Parlato have run TV ads but Mychajliw has not done so yet.  The campaign financial filings for the candidates, which report things through March 31, help tell the tale.

Here is a summary of money raised, borrowed and spent thus far in this election cycle:

  • Jacobs raised a total of $807,465 which includes donations from 424 individual contributors, and has loaned his campaign another $446,000. He has spent a total of $732,544 and had $520,921 remaining as of March 31.
  • Parlato raised a total of $395,654 which includes donations from 311 individual contributors, and has loaned her campaign another $158,500. She has spent a total of $103,156 and had $450,997 remaining.
  • Mychajliw raised a total of $75,576 but individual contributors were not identified. The campaign has no outstanding loans. He has spent a total of $3,747 and had $71,829 remaining.
  • McMurray raised a total of $527,909 which includes donations from 661 individual contributors. The campaign has no outstanding loans. He has spent a total of $258,831 and had $267,270 remaining.

The Republican candidates, of course, are totally committed* to supporting Donald Trump, although none of them were seen driving in circles around Niagara Square earlier this week; an aside – why were all of those tea party folks wearing masks?

*Totally committed does not apply, however, to commenting on the performance of the Trump administration concerning the management of the pandemic. A review of the Republican congressional candidates’ websites reveals no such support.  TV ads do not indicate such support either.  They must be “political distancing.”

On the state legislative district level there is an interesting dynamic at play in the Democratic primary for Assembly in the 140th District currently held by retiring member Robin Schimminger.  Endorsed candidate and Tonawanda Town Councilman Bill Conrad and attorney and perennial candidate for office Kevin Stocker are the two candidates.

Stocker in recent weeks has done a substantial amount of TV advertising for his law practice during a time period which overlaps the primary election campaign. The ads describe his work and claimed success in a variety of legal matters.  Stocker’s advertising raises two questions:  (1) is he in effect running political commercials which it seems would need to be reported and considered part of a campaign’s expenses; and (2) is he telling voters that he will maintain his considerable law practice if he is elected?  Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos might have advice for him about the advisability of such work.

Given the circumstances our country faces political campaigns in 2020 pose major challenges for the candidates and the parties. In a year when February had 29 days, and March seems to have had 500, Election Day on November 3rd seems a million uncharted miles away.