International Policy Digest

Politics /29 May 2020
05.29.20

Congressional Campaigns find Innovative Ways to Campaign During Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has forced congressional campaigns to shelter away from communities and fundraising events to find unique ways to help out their communities while getting their campaign messages out to the public. Whether it is assisting vulnerable residents with their grocery shopping to hosting social media live streams with health experts, each campaign is thinking outside of the box to help people in need.

Peter Meijer, the Republican candidate vying for the MI-03 seat, looked upon his family tree for ideas and ways to positively impact his community. Meijer’s family owns the Meijer supermarket chain across the Midwest.

In late-March, Meijer and his campaign brainstormed for ways to help out Western Michigan during the pandemic, which resulted in the launching of “Operation F.R.E.D.” Operation F.R.E.D., which stands for food, relief, emergency, and delivery, was named after Meijer’s grandfather, Fred. Operation F.R.E.D. is a food delivery service, where Meijer and his campaign go to homes across Western Michigan, not just MI-03, and help out residents who fear leaving their homes due to COVID-19.

“We had a network of full-time and part-time staff and a bank account of donations,” said Noah Sadlier, Political Director and spokesman for Meijer’s campaign. “We knew we could spend (some money) to help people.”

While following C.D.C. guidelines, Meijer and a small group of his staff have delivered approximately 36,000 meals to more 3,000 homes across three Michigan districts since the launch of Operation F.R.E.D., after spending weeks promoting the not-for-profit service on local radio. The campaign calls households the day before delivery to confirm vital details, such as addresses, arrangements, dietary needs, and restrictions, and the number of people who live together. Once the food is delivered, Meijer and his staff greet the family, while staying at least six feet apart.

Kim Olson’s campaign has found several ways to connect with the residents of her district, TX-24. COVID-19 “is a dynamic that has made social media and digital advertising more important during this digital campaign,” said Rachel Perry, Olson’s Campaign Manager.

Kim Olson, a Democrat who served as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, has hosted ten online town halls with experts during the heightened peak of the pandemic. Perry added, “The biggest opportunity presented by coronavirus has allowed Colonel Olson to step in and be a leader during this period of time.”

During the past two months, Olson’s campaign has worked to inform citizens of Texas’ voting laws, while pushing Austin to pursue ways to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19 in July’s runoff election. “We hope that the Texas government and the courts do the right thing by expanding absentee voting,” said Perry. Olson’s campaign website has a tab for Texans to stay updated and informed regarding who is eligible for absentee voting.

Like Olson’s campaign, Lindsey Boylan’s campaign discovered creative ways to connect with voters via social media and online. Boylan, who is challenging incumbent Congressman Jerry Nadler in NY-10 for the Democratic nomination, has spent the last two months of her campaign informing New Yorkers of resources for the pandemic. Boylan’s campaign sends out email chains with resource guides to subscribers in her district that updates them on the fly.

“I tried to connect with people on the subway to and from work,” recalled Boylan, who enjoyed having conversations with her fellow New Yorkers before the pandemic. Now, with most people in her district, which contains Manhattan’s West Side and Brooklyn, sitting at home, Boylan finds ways to connect with people. She hosts live weekly coffee and office hours on Instagram and Facebook, video chatting via Zoom, and daily phone calls with residents.

Boylan’s campaign has also focused on producing, on average, two campaign videos a week exploring topics that New Yorkers should be informed on. For example, during these one-minute clips, Boylan has discussed why receiving cash is essential in the recently passed stimulus bill and the importance of applying for small business grants, not loans, while citing her background working for New York State’s economic system.

While the majority of congressional candidates have until November to focus on shifting gears to win the general election, Boylan’s campaign is in “win-now” mode because whoever wins the June 23 Democratic Primary Election in New York will likely be representing NY-10 in Washington D.C. The Cook Partisan Voting Index has this district listed as D+26 in its 2018 edition.

Meanwhile, in MI-03, Meijer is expected to win the August Republican Primary Election and November’s general election, assuming Congressman Justin Amash does not run for reelection for his House seat.

Meijer has outraised his eventual opponent Democrat Hillary Scholten in the first quarter of 2020, according to both campaign’s financial reports submitted to the Federal Elections Commission. Meijer’s campaign has raised a total of $1.075 million.

Kim Olson’s campaign has also exceeded the one million dollar fundraising total. Olson’s campaign has raised more funds compared to her expected November opponent, Beth Van Duyne, the former Mayor of Irving. Rachel Perry said that Olson’s campaign has found it challenging to ask for money at the moment but is “on track to have our best quarter to date.”

While it is difficult for campaigns all across the nation to focus on fundraising during the pandemic, some campaigns have made sure to use their time wisely with primary elections taking place within the next month.

Boylan claims her campaign has been productive because of their innovative ideas and collaborating with her team. “We have a daily call (with eight of our staffers) starting at 9:15 (a.m.) every Monday through Friday,” said Boylan. “We start the day together.”

According to Sadlier, Meijer’s campaign does not host staff meetings in their office, but a few staffers go into the office regularly to manage Operation F.R.E.D. and political operations.

Perry mentioned that despite Olson’s campaign staff consisting of 90 members, they closed down their office and have been working inside of staffer’s homes.

The Boylan, Meijer, and Olson campaigns have high expectations heading into their respective primary elections.

“For the first time, Congressman Nadler has a challenge, and it reminds people why it is important to vote this year,” said Boylan. Congressman Nadler has held office in NY-10 since 1992.

Congressman Amash, when he was a Republican, won every election in a landslide in MI-03. Sadlier, on Meijer’s behalf, said, “We feel very confident because (MI-03) is a historically red district.”

While the Boylan’s campaign’s fate looms shortly and Meijer’s campaign expects to be victorious in November, Kim Olson’s campaign has been on the edge of their seat since she announced her candidacy in April 2019. “It is going to be a tough fight. This will be a very expensive battle,” said Perry.

Lindsey Boylan spoke for all congressional candidates when she discussed what her campaign is missing out on during the pandemic. “The biggest challenge is the feeling that we want to be able to help people as much as possible,” said Boylan. “We want to reach through the phone and hug them.”