Political campaigns

DC Political Campaigns Adapt to COVID-19

The district’s primary election season has begun and campaigns have adapted to the continued presence of the coronavirus, which has influenced how voters continue to engage.

On February 12, Robert White’s mayoral campaign asked Deputy Campaign Manager Zoe Ades to stand at the intersection of 10and and D Streets NE and wait for volunteers while she procures materials to help the candidate run for the June 21 primary ballot.

Ades said the team knows and remains adept at the traditional campaign routine of shaking hands, kissing babies and having intimate conversations with voters. But those tactics will be difficult to facilitate with the District still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are still hosting events and reaching out to voters, but in a different way than in the past,” she said.

Campaigns in the district have had to adapt, using virtual tools and following the city’s anti-coronavirus measures to reach voters with outdoor activities. However, these virtual tools have been combined with more traditional modes such as knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods in an effort to raise awareness of candidates.

Ades said the White campaign used Zoom meetings to connect its candidate with supporters and voters.

“We have meetup events on Zoom almost every night,” she said. “Robert talks about his vision for the city and what he wants to do as the next mayor and people have the opportunity to ask questions and make comments.”

White, a member of the general council, also travels neighborhoods with volunteers while distributing literature to voters. Ades said the campaign had success going door-to-door, adding that people seemed eager to engage with White on issues while on their porch or in their yard.

Political watchers note that White has become one of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s main opponents.

Meanwhile, in a statement obtained by the Informer, the Bowser campaign said it constantly communicates with voters asking why the mayor should be re-elected for a third term.

“We are working hard to engage voters on Mayor Bowser’s accomplishments and vision and have been encouraged by the response,” the statement said. “We continue to find ways to engage volunteers and voters almost before June 21st primary.”

Political observers have also singled out Trayon White, Sr., who serves on the Ward 8 council, as another major challenger to Bowser.

Trayon White’s campaign did not respond to a request about its voter outreach strategy at press time despite our conversation with a campaign aide about the request.

In his bid to replace Ward 5 Council member, Kenyan McDuffie, Gordon Fletcher said he knocked on many doors while maintaining his interactions with constituents in line with recent COVID-19 mandates.

“When I approach a resident’s house, I make sure to stay about six feet away when talking to them,” Fletcher said. “I wear masks, with my volunteers, to respect their space.”

Fletcher said he uses social media, Zoom events and telephone banking to reach voters.

Patricia Briscoe is president of Friends for Zachery Parker. Parker also wants to win the Ward 5 seat. Briscoe said the Parker campaign has focused much of its energy on canvassing wards.

“We’re going around neighborhoods talking about what Zachery wants to do if he’s elected to city council,” she said. “When we walk, we make sure masks are worn.”

Briscoe said when they go door to door, they make it a point to greet residents at their doorsteps and not enter homes. Like many campaigns, social media has become the primary mode of communicating Parker’s message, she said.

“We would like to do more outside, but it’s been so cold,” she said.

Chuck Thies, McDuffie’s campaign manager for DC’s attorney general, said the campaign was both digital and virtual.

“We did a lot of online dating through Zoom,” he said. “We find virtual events more convenient. People don’t have to leave their homes and drive across town or neighborhood to attend. They can just log in instead.

He said McDuffie and his volunteers went door-to-door throughout the city and kept six feet away from residents when interacting. But the McDuffie campaign hopes that as the omicron wave continues to wane, more face-to-face interactions will soon be possible.

However, he notes that the McDuffie campaign held an outdoor event despite the cold weather.

“It was December and we had 35 to 40 people in a big yard,” Thies said. “People wanted to come talk to Kenyans and the weather was not going to stop them. We had outdoor heaters to keep everyone warm and had hot tea and cider to serve. The event was great and Kenyan said he was glad we did. I will be happy when the weather improves and we can really go out and campaign among the people.