On the trail: Politics in the days of the coronavirus

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces a series of emergency orders on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Concord, N.H., in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The orders create immediate access to unemployment benefits for residents unable to work or facing reduced hours due to the new coronavirus pandemic. He also took steps to protect people from being evicted or having utilities shut off in the next few weeks. (AP photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

For the Monitor
Published: 3/19/2020 4:25:04 PM

With New Hampshire in a state of emergency and nearly daily updates from Gov. Chris Sununu on actions to combat the coronavirus, the two top Democrats who hope to unseat him are in a tough political bind.

Both candidates – Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky – are trying to stay relevant and show that they’re contributing to solutions to the pandemic without trying to appear as if they’re acting with political motives.

Volinsky on Wednesday called on Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to close all of the state’s 77 New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets to prevent the spread of the virus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19.

“They are not safe for employees or people concerned about community spread of coronavirus,” Volinsky argued.

But the Liquor and Wine Outlets said they were committed to staying open, assuring the public that they are thoroughly disinfecting the stores, which remain safe for customers and employees.

Feltes said the state had larger issues to focus on than the liquor stores.

“We are more focused on adequate testing, adequate unemployment insurance, supporting child care centers and increasing access to health care than on what’s happening at the liquor stores,” Feltes said in a statement.

Volinsky also called on Sununu to call the Executive Council back into session this week to help advise the governor in dealing with the pandemic. Volinsky’s campaign said the governor had not yet responded to the request.

Sununu – under emergency powers – is able to enter the state into contracts regarding efforts related to the coronavirus without the need for council approval.

Feltes is the second-ranking Democrat in the state Senate. But right now the State House is pretty much a ghost town as the legislative session has been postponed for at least the next two weeks.

The Senate majority leader has urged that unemployment benefits for those who’ve lost their jobs due to the coronavirus be boosted to at least $250 per week, and he’s calling for more coronavirus testing.

He’s also taking aim at President Trump, saying some steps by the administration are hampering New Hampshire’s response to the coronavirus.

“During previous emergencies, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have empowered states to loosen Medicaid rules in order to meet growing coverage and treatment needs. President Trump’s efforts to block states from using Medicaid in their response to this pandemic limits a critical resource New Hampshire could use to mitigate this crisis,” Feltes said in a statement.

As for actual campaigning in the race, that is moving online as a result of the virus.

“The Virtual Town Halls will replace any previously scheduled house parties for the foreseeable future and additional online conversations will be added to the schedule and take place throughout the month of April. All virtual town halls will be open to the public,” the Feltes campaign said in an email.

Volinsky has also moved his campaign over to the virtual world, hosting discussions on Facebook Live.

Primary calendar sidetracked

With the viral pandemic sweeping across the nation, presidential primaries that took place Tuesday in Arizona, Florida and Illinois may well be the last nominating contests held for the next couple of months.

Ohio’s primary was also scheduled to be held Tuesday, but state officials used emergency powers to postpone the contest hours before the polls were set to open.

After the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urged against any gatherings of 50 people or more, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine stressed on Monday that “we cannot conduct this election tomorrow.”

Primaries scheduled for next Tuesday in Georgia, April 4 in Louisiana, and May 19 in Kentucky already have been pushed back to later dates.

Maryland and Connecticut announced this week that their April 28 primaries are being postponed until June 2. Democratic Party officials in Puerto Rico – which would hold its contest on March 29 – are seeking a delay as well.

More delays are likely to follow for states scheduled to hold contests in the coming weeks.

These abrupt moves come with the country facing an unprecedented crisis as the outbreak has caused millions of Americans to self-isolate in their homes in hopes of stemming the transmission of the disease.

In an effort to keep voters and poll workers safe and prevent the postponement of primaries, the Democratic National Committee’s calling on states that have upcoming contests to offer options like voting by mail.

“States can provide easy access to voting while still taking necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of the American people. In order to ensure the voices of voters are heard, the DNC is urging the remaining primary states to use a variety of other critical mechanisms that will make voting easier and safer for voters and election officials alike,” DNC chair Tom Perez urged in a Tuesday statement.

“The simplest tool is vote by mail, which is already in use in a number of states and should be made available to all registered voters. States using vote by mail should proactively mail ballots to registered voters, where feasible, and should count all ballots as long as they are postmarked by the date of the primary,” he emphasized.

Officials have already postponed some state party conventions, where the delegate process initiated during the primaries and caucuses continues and delegates who will represent their states at the national conventions are chosen.

Perez sent state party chairs an email last week saying that the national party’s delegate selection team has been in contact with states that need to make changes to their delegate selection process due to the pandemic to ensure the nominating process will “continue without major interruptions.”

Longtime Democratic National Committee member Kathy Sullivan – a veteran of the Rules Committee – noted that some states will need a waiver to change their approved delegate-selection plan.

“That’s not going to be a big deal. Everybody understands this is an unusual situation. … I think with the technology nowadays, these sorts of things can be handled,” said Sullivan, a former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair.

Down the road are the biggest political gatherings of the year – the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions. These two quadrennial marquee political events are massive operations that take years of planning and have huge economic impacts on their host cities. But just like everything else in this world turned upside down by the virus that causes COVID-19, they may be in jeopardy.

A Democratic official with knowledge of planning for the party convention said the plan is to still move forward but that it’s obviously a fluid situation.

The convention is scheduled to be held July 13-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The GOP has a bit more breathing room. The Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held Aug. 24-27 in Charlotte, N.C.

“As we move forward with planning, we remain in communication with local, state and federal officials and we will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with all stakeholders and health authorities to ensure every necessary precaution is taken into account,” 2020 Republican National Convention communications Blair Ellis said in a statement.

Traditional campaigning has also come to a halt. The presidential campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont over the past week and a half have switched to virtual town halls and other online campaign events – and the Biden campaign is also implementing virtual fundraisers. And door-to-door canvassing by grassroots organizers is also on hiatus, as campaigns move to phone and online efforts.

What will Sanders do?

Sanders is mulling his next political move after a string of devastating losses on Tuesday at the hands of the former vice president.

Sanders’s campaign on Wednesday emphasized that “the next primary contest is at least three weeks away. Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.”

Biden’s landslide victory in Florida, his crushing defeat of Sanders in Illinois, and his win in Arizona cemented his status as the presumptive Democratic nominee and all but closed the senator’s extremely narrow path to win the nomination.

The Sanders campaign quickly stopped putting up Facebook ads and also stopped asking for contributions from supporters.

The other remaining Democratic presidential candidate – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii – on Thursday ended her long-shot White House bid and endorsed Biden.

One day earlier, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld – the sole remaining long-shot GOP primary challenger against President Trump – suspended his White House bid. Weld’s move came hours after Trump captured enough delegates to clinch the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.

Please support the Monitor's coverage

Help us fund local COVID-19 reporting in our community.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy