The next knock on your door might not be a delivery driver from Amazon. In Nebraska, it could be a candidate running for office.
After leaning heavily on phone and digital outreach, many political campaigns are sending volunteers to voters’ doors ahead of the general election.
So far, it’s mostly Republicans campaigning at the stoop. Democrats are still debating whether and how to safely canvass for the Nov. 3 election.
Most door-to-door campaigning was put on hold in March as the country shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans started ringing doorbells again in mid-June in Nebraska’s most competitive congressional race, the Omaha area’s 2nd Congressional District.
Volunteers for Rep. Don Bacon wear masks and practice social distancing, said Kyle Clark, a Bacon campaign spokesman. Clark said the response from GOP voters answering doors has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
Bacon’s team takes public health seriously, Clark said, and “will continue to monitor the COVID situation and adjust our plans.”
Bacon’s key challenger in the 2nd District House race, Democrat Kara Eastman, is not yet ready to knock on voters’ doors. She said through a campaign spokesman that she wants to be smart with people’s health.
Her volunteers are chatting with voters by phone, text and video conferencing and using other forms of digital outreach, the campaign said.
One day soon, that could change, but only “in a scenario where we determine it to be safe for the voters and our hard-working volunteers,” said Dave Pantos of Eastman’s campaign.
Not all Republicans are resuming door-to-door campaigning. State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, who’s in a hotly contested legislative race with another Republican, real estate agent Janet Palmtag, said her campaign is sticking with phone calls and virtual meetings for now. “We’re closely monitoring the confirmed cases in District 1,” Slama said.
A spokesman for Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour said she has “no particular concerns” about door-to-door campaigning, as long as people wear masks, keep their distance and stay outside.
That’s what the Nebraska Republican Party is doing while knocking on doors for candidates up and down the ballot, said the state party’s executive director, Ryan Hamilton.
Party volunteers have been asked to stand 8 to 10 feet away from doors after they knock and to wear masks, though Hamilton said voters often ask that the mask be removed.
Grace Buttermore, a 19-year-old Omaha Republican, has been knocking on doors for GOP candidates, including Omaha City Councilman Rich Pahls, a former state senator who is running for his former legislative seat representing southwest Omaha.
One example: She and Pahls, masked up, spoke to a veteran who was sitting on his porch near 156th and Q Streets. He seemed surprised to speak with the candidate he had backed for City Council.
President Donald Trump’s campaign is going door to door in the 2nd District, too, said Samantha Cotton of Trump Victory. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is not, at least not yet, officials confirmed.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Molly Safreed said Trump’s team contacted a total of nearly 13,000 District 2 voters last weekend by phone, social media and in person.
Election experts say face time with voters is historically the most effective form of campaigning.
COVID brings a different campaign season. I miss being able to connect with Nebraskans. Hearing your stories motivate me to find realistic solutions. No family should experiencing losing their business or feeling forced to skip bills to cover their child’s prescription cost. pic.twitter.com/C0ABqeYaOt— Alisha Shelton (@Shelton4Senate) July 8, 2020
Some candidates, including Democratic Senate hopeful Alisha Shelton, lamented the loss of in-person campaigning. She tweeted Wednesday that she missed “being able to connect with Nebraskans.”
But local Democrats are holding yard sign pickup drive-thru parties, texting and calling voters, reaching out on social media and dropping off campaign pamphlets at people’s doors.
“We do not think it is safe for our staff members and voters’ health to be conducting conversations at the doors right now,” said Jane Kleeb, chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party.
Omaha-area Democrats will get some knocks at the door soon from a group of national progressives interested in boosting Eastman’s chances in the House race. Those efforts were scheduled to start Thursday.
The Progressive Turnout Project, a national $52.5 million effort to get more people to vote this, aims to knock on 50,000 doors in Nebraska’s 2nd District, said Will Mantell, a spokesman for the group.
The reason: The group does not want to cede to Republicans or Trump the most effective way to encourage voters to cast their ballots.
Mantell said the group’s volunteers will have masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and instructions to stay at least 6 feet from other people, and to stay outdoors, even if invited in.
“It’s essential that we get to work now by having the kind of early, face-to-face conversations that our research shows boost Democratic turnout,” said Alex Morgan, the group’s executive director.
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