On the Trail: For Republicans and Democrats, a growing divide on approach to campaigning

  • Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas headlines a meet and greet gathering at President Donald Trump’s New Hampshire campaign headquarters, in Manchester, NH on July 31, 2020. By PAUL STEINHAUSER

For the Monitor
Published: 8/7/2020 4:41:08 PM
Modified: 8/7/2020 4:40:56 PM

Amid a coronavirus pandemic that’s forced most Americans to socially distance and wear masks, Democrats and Republicans in New Hampshire are taking very different approaches to how they’re reaching out to supporters to get out the vote in the 2020 elections.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party and the campaigns of the major Democratic candidates running statewide – such as presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen – are going the virtual route.

The state party is holding all of its events online and is reaching out to supporters virtually or through phone conversations.

“The health and safety of our staff, candidates, voters, and all Granite Staters is our first priority – always,” a party memo states.

While Shaheen has held a few socially distanced outdoor campaign events with participants wearing masks, her get-out-the-vote efforts are conducted online or on the phone. It’s the same story with the two gubernatorial candidates, state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky.

Both state Democrats and Republicans quickly adapted after the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation in March. In May, the Democrats held their annual state party convention on-line, becoming the first state party to hold an entirely virtual convention.

“It’s not exactly how I’d imagine a convention would be – me alone in my office – especially when more than 10,000 of us met last year,” longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley said at the time.

This summer, as he looked back on the confab, Buckley told the Monitor that “having a virtual convention opens up the opportunities for more people to participate. Our May 9 state convention has been watched by more than 10 times the number of folks that usually attend.”

But the Republicans starting this summer have returned to some in-person campaigning. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the joint efforts of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the New Hampshire GOP – as well as some county and local Republican groups – have resumed holding in-person events and fundraisers – including indoor gatherings.

And when it comes to their get-out-the-vote efforts, the Republicans are returning to conducting in-person canvassing and traditional door knocks.

In a sign of the times, New Hampshire based RNC spokesperson Nina McLaughlin told the Monitor that “our team wears masks and has hand sanitizer. For office events, we have touchless thermometers that we use when people enter. At our last all-staff meeting, we took everyone’s temperature as they entered the room.”

She added that they mandate that all of their canvassers stand 6 to 10 feet away from voters as they conduct door knocks.

Asked if any of their field organizers or volunteers have contracted COVID-19 while canvassing or attending meetings, McLaughlin said that “we have not had any instances of anyone becoming sick. We take our team and volunteers safety very seriously.”

One Republican who won’t be knocking doors is Gov. Chris Sununu, who’s running for a third two-year term steering New Hampshire. A Sununu campaign spokesman said last month in comments to the Union Leader that “the governor loves going door to door, and has done so in past elections, but we have no plans to do so this year. The governor will campaign virtually over Zoom as well as attend other functions where proper health and safety guidelines can be maintained.”

The big political question going forward is whether these very different types of campaigning and organizing will impact the presidential, Senate, gubernatorial, congressional, and down ballot battles in New Hampshire. That question will be answered in November.

Trump event

Last month, when the president’s campaign cancelled Trump’s New Hampshire rally due to stormy weather a day before it was scheduled to be held, officials spotlighted that it would soon be rescheduled.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters at the time that the rally would be delayed by a week or two. And campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said the event would “be rescheduled and a new date will be announced soon.”

Now – nearly a month later – no reschedule date has been set.

This week senior campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski – in an appearance on the news-talk morning radio program “New Hampshire Today with Jack Heath” – acknowledged that it’s unlikely the president will be here anytime soon.

“The president’s schedule is always in flux,” emphasized Lewandowski, who managed Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign from its inception through the primary calendar and who remains close to the president.

The Windham resident said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we get the president back here.” And he made a prediction, saying, “I can assure you the president’s coming back to New Hampshire.”

The rally – which would have been the president’s second since the coronavirus swept the nation in March – was scheduled for Saturday, July 11. The Trump campaign and the White House – when announcing the cancellation - cited concerns about a forecast tropical storm that ended up not impacting Portsmouth, where the rally was supposed to be held.

But sources at the time pointed to health concerns due to the pandemic – and worries that not enough supporters would show up at the rally.

Ahead of the president’s first rally amid the coronavirus – held in Tulsa, Okla., in June – Trump and his campaign touted that they had received 1 million requests for tickets to the event. But the crowds never materialized, and large portions of the arena’s upper deck were empty as the president spoke.

This week – during an interview with Axios – the president discussed the Tulsa rally and the challenges of campaigning amid the coronavirus. Trump then pinned the cancellation of the New Hampshire rally on the pandemic, saying “I canceled another one. I had to cancel it. We were going to have a great crowd in New Hampshire, and I canceled it for the same reason.”

Instead of coming to the state in person – the president last week held a tele-rally with supporters in New Hampshire and Maine that was streamed live on the Trump campaign’s Facebook page.


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