In local elections across the US, such as for city council races, candidates face a bizarre new world. Canvassing, rallies, and meet-and-greets are out. Direct mail may even be looked upon with suspicion. Hollowed-out local media institutions struggle to cover these races in normal times, and now their few reporters are stretched even thinner. For candidates whose names don’t generate the kind of buzz seen in state-wide or national elections, the end of in-person campaigning is a severe blow to their ability to meet voters and raise money.
“Honestly, there’s no substitute for person-to-person, face-to-face contact in a small election,” says Mark Nevins, a political consultant with the Dover Group, who specialises in direct mail campaigns. “This has really changed the way campaigns are forced to find ways to communicate with voters – and not for the better.”
Many local candidates don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if the pandemic will wane by the fall. Most large US cities are governed by Democrats, meaning primary elections this spring and early summer are more competitive than November’s general election. American cities also can’t exercise the option pursued by their English counterparts, where this year’s mayoral elections are being postponed until 2021 in the hopes that things settle down by then. Over at CityMetric, Jake Blumgart reports from one such city, Baltimore, where candidates for local offices are writing an entirely new campaign playbook on the fly.
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