That’s not to mention the adverse effect that the rapidly declining economy will have on the size and number of donations, big or small. Fundraising dollars can still trickle in online or via mail, but “if people are nervous about whether they’re about to be laid off, if they’ve already been laid off, if they’ve just watched their 401k plummet, they may not want to give money,” Goff said.
Two hallmark events of the campaign season—July’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee and the Republican National Convention, set for August in Charlotte—remain on, for now. “While we continue to closely monitor this fluid situation, the Democratic National Convention Committee will remain focused on planning a safe and successful convention in Milwaukee,” DNCC CEO Joe Solmonese said in a statement to Vogue. “We will remain in constant communication with the local, state, and federal officials responsible for protecting public health and security—and will continue to follow their guidance as we move forward.”
Then there is the matter of getting out the vote, and the act of voting itself, as the country copes with a pandemic mere months before Election Day. In lieu of knocking on doors, the campaigns can ramp up virtual phone and text banks (both productive ways to pass the quarantined hours). But whether voters will be able to get to the polls remains to be seen. (It has been noted that elderly citizens—those among the most at risk against corona—are some of the country’s most tried and true poll workers.)
“We are dealing with this crisis right now, but we have absolutely no idea what this could look like in November,” McClendon said. “I do not believe that people should have to choose between exercising their right to vote and the risks of their health.”
There’s now much ado about the vote-by-mail option—the Kansas Democratic party announced on Wednesday that they are “automatically sending all registered Kansas Democrats a mail-in ballot on March 30th,” no request necessary. A few dozen states, including Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Washington, and California offer vote-by-mail, but some, like D.C., only to those who request it, or only to seniors or those with disabilities. At least 16 states don’t have an option for people to vote by mail or no-excuse absentee voting, McClendon, who works on Crooked Media’s Vote Save America get-out-the-vote initiative, said. There may not be enough time for states who do not yet offer it to institute vote by mail in the eight months before Election Day.
But with all the challenges of a digital, virtual presidential race comes new opportunities, including forcing the campaigns into the future. Goff is talking with clients about how best to replicate the feel of an in-person event, from Zoom conference calls to Instagram Live or Facebook Live, Reddit AMAs, engaging with YouTubers, or popping up on popular podcasts.
Resch advises the candidates to embrace Instagram Live for “5, 10 minutes at a time. Just like, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re thinking. Here’s what we’re working on,’ from wherever they are”—as long as it’s “not from an office filled with people.” No matter that, at 77 and 78 years old respectively, neither Biden and Sanders are of the Instagram generation. “The only way it would come off as cool is if they were authentic with it, and they were like, “Hey, listen, this is not my thing, but I want to talk you guys,'” Resch said. “Own it somehow.”
Voters may be craving that personal connection more than ever. In between livestreaming entertainment and adapting other everyday concerns, the digital, virtual campaign is poised to become part of the new normal for people social-distancing through the coronavirus pandemic. “Everyone’s a bit depressed,” Goff said, “but we’re all about to spend our evenings and weekends sitting around, most likely staring at our phones. The candidates are going to have a pretty captive audience.”