Considered two of the key bellwether Congressional races in the country, the major party nominees seeking to represent the 5th and 11th Districts are focused on connecting with voters in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
How the candidates are meeting voters has changed in some ways—Zoom rallies for instance—while others are taking the approach of campaigning in the same ways as before.
In any election campaign, incumbents like Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) and Mikie Sherrill (D-11) have built in advantages such as name recognition as well as campaign warchests that dwarf their challengers.
Sprint to Nov. 3
With under 100 days left until the election, Frank Pallotta campaign plans to play to his strength in attempting to represent the 5th Congressional district, which includes being around voters despite challenges of the pandemic.
“We will continue to do in-person events in accordance with the rules and in cooperation with both our hosts and guests at any particular event,” said Kelly Ann Hart, Pallotta’s campaign manager.
When it comes to in-person events, Hart said the campaign is making care to ensure events are in compliance with the rules outlined by the state that encourages face coverings and social distancing. However, a view of Pallotta’s Facebook page is prodimenly filled with interactions with people not wearing masks or social distancing.
“Masks are available to all attendees and, to the extent the rules allow, we trust attendees to make the right decision,” said Hart.
In the Gottheimer camp, their plan for in-person events is to to adhere to Gov. Phil Murphy’s guidelines of wearing face masks when social distancing is not applicable, according to Michael Ambler, Gottheimer’s campaign manager.
“At the recommendation of public health officials, we have not been campaigning door-to-door,” said Ambler. “We hope that all candidates for office will respect these guidelines, including the importance of wearing masks when in close proximity to others.”
Conversely, the two GOP candidates plan to have a door-to-door campaign.
Pallotta’s camp, noting that they can not match Gottheimer’s $8 million warchest for the campaign, plans to take “our campaign directly to the people,” said Hart.
Audrey Lane, campaign manager for Rosemary Becchi, said while they will not walk around and knock on doors in the traditional way, they will be canvassing communities, including “leaving literature with a QR code…so that voters can scan a code and get involved in (the) campaign instantly.”
Lane has found voters are very engaged despite restrictions and limitations put upon them.
“As a result, we have held many zoom rallies, online fundraising events and virtual volunteer training sessions,” she said. “Fortunately, we have enthusiastic volunteers and supporters and we have found ways to connect with voters in a variety of non-traditional ways over the past several months.”
Becchi has held outdoor events in order to have guests feel more comfortable and be socially distant.
“When holding indoor events, we have requested that our guests wear masks and continue to practice social distancing and the guidelines set forth by the Governor’s executive orders and the CDC,” said Lane.
For the Sherrill campaign, it plans to hold virtual events throughout the community this Summer and into the Fall—such as the August Month of Service focused on different service activities including food drives, a roundtable discussion on mental health during COVID-19, and assisting local organizations that work on housing and homelessness.
“In order to keep our community safe, the campaign has held virtual events, including phonebanking and textbanking with our incredible grassroots network,” said Sherrill’s campaign manager, Elizabeth Davis. “Congresswoman Sherrill fully supports following CDC and state guidelines for social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands.”
To that end, the first-term Democratic representative held two virtual community meetings In August with hundreds of constituents, taking questions from residents about the issues at top of mind for New Jersey families.
“The campaign will continue to engage our volunteer base, contact voters, and share Congresswoman Sherrill’s work over the last two years to fight for New Jersey families in Congress,” said Davis.
GOP campaign officials bemoaned the fact that residents are prevented from convening with candidates to talk about the issues and difficulties they are facing today.
“The closing of restaurants without outdoor seating, gyms, schools, churches and other places where people traditionally gather will undoubtedly have an effect on this election,” said Lane. “New Jerseyans are searching for answers and a real plan for reopening this state.”
The restrictions themselves have become an issue for the GOP, with Lane noting that the executive orders have sparked conversations and highlighted what Republicans see as deficiencies in the leadership in the state and Congress.
“Mikie Sherrill has failed to address the problems we have at home,” said Lane. “ The lack of leadership throughout this pandemic has affected the narrative of all candidates running for election in this cycle.”
Hart added, “We (follow the protocols) despite the fact that Frank opposes how the Governor has cut out both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, and instead chose to govern like a monarch.”