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Maine Candidates Forced To Use Different Campaign Methods During Pandemic

Knocking on doors and meeting personally with voters has long been crucial to political campaigns in Maine. Voters often like to talk to those who want to represent them in the legislature or in Congress. But the coronavirus pandemic has changed how candidates campaign.

Shaking hands at a restaurant, going to small gatherings in people’s homes to discuss why they should be elected, and going door-to-door, dropping off literature and making personal connections — all are off the table for candidates as people self-isolate in their homes and as gatherings of more than ten people are banned to reduce spread of the virus.

“With a husband, children a dog and a cat — and the dog is feisty tonight, so if there is noise in the background I hope you will forgive me.”

That's Sara Gideon, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate as she started a virtual town meeting using Zoom and Facebook. She says since the new coronavirus hit, virtual town meetings have replaced her "suppers with Sara" as a principal way to reach voters in a format where they can interact with her.

“It helps me feel a little more connected and also helps people see all that I am, more on the spot, as I answer questions, and I think that is an important part of being a candidate,” Gideon says.

The internet town meeting has become a favorite of all the major candidates this year, including Betsy Sweet, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

“We are doing a thing every day where I am live on Facebook for thirty minutes,” says Sweet. “We change the time of day so different people can get on, but people can listen and we bring up issues that are happening.”

And it’s not just Democrats who are using online technologies and other strategies to reach voters. Eric Brakey, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the House seat in the 2nd Congressional District, says his campaign workers have shifted from going door to door to making phone calls.

A screenshot of ' #FreeMaine LIVE' from Brakey's Facebook page

“Before the epidemic it certainly was a lot easier, we were doing a lot of big town halls, and our team had knocked on over 35,000 doors across the 2nd District, but now our grassroots supporters are focused on our phone at home program.”

Instead of traditional phone banks where dozens of campaign workers call voters, Brakey has supporters making calls from their homes to potential voters.

Dale Crafts, also seeking the Republican nomination, says his campaign is also holding virtual town meetings and using other techniques to reach potential voters.

“What we are doing a lot of is reaching out with phone calls, we are doing a lot of social media stuff, videos and different stuff and just pushing real hard.”

And Crafts says another way the coronavirus has changed campaigns is that fundraising is now even more difficult. He says contributors who used to be willing to give the maximum amount under campaign finance laws have given a lot less because of the economic uncertainty caused by the virus. Adrienne Bennett, the third Republican seeking the nomination in the 2nd District, says she has been using mass emails, web advertising and other social media from the start of her campaign.

“Digital has changed the face of politics over the last few years and whoever has been on top of it is going to come out faring a little bit better,” says Bennett.

All the candidates say they hope restrictions put in place to control the spread of the virus will ease by the fall. They still long for some old fashioned rallies before they wind up their campaigns.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.