In light of the statewide shelter-in-place order and the new guidelines on social distancing from the White House, a number of Illinois 2020 congressional campaigns have changed their methods for connecting and reaching out to the public.
Jim Oberweis, the Republican challenger in Illinois’ 14th district described the massive change the pandemic brought to his campaign.
“It’s dramatically changed everything," he explained. "We’re making a lot of phone calls, talking to people. We’re looking into doing zoom meetings and tele-town halls. What is on everyone’s mind is staying safe and healthy.”
Oberweis described the crisis as shifting the campaign’s messaging.
“What do we do about the coronavirus and what do we do once we get past it? The important thing is going to be having people in Congress who know what it takes to get the economy moving again,” Oberweis said.
He emphasized his support for early voting and mail-in ballots as a method of maintaining social distancing.
Oberweis is challenging incumbent Democrat Lauren Underwood in November’s election. She's posted a "Coronavirus Resource" page on her congressional website.
Meanwhile, Sean Casten, the incumbent Democrat congressional representative for Illinois’ sixth district launched a new outreach program using the campaign’s resources. The "Team Casten Checking-In" program uses the demographic and contact databases the campaign has developed to call elderly voters in the sixth district.
Volunteers sign up to call the homebound and the elderly in the sixth district to connect people with needed services and provide a source of contact during social isolation. Campaign manager Chloe Hunt described the effort as less about voter outreach and more focused on helping constituents during the crisis.
“What I think is really cool about this program, is that we never ask them partisan questions," Hunt said.
The Casten campaign provided information on COVID-19 and contact information for Illinois’ coronavirus hotline.
“We just wanted to do our part to be there as a resource. It’s been really exciting to see the response. We’ve had over 100 sign-ups in the first week of the program,” Hunt stated.
The Casten campaign is unsure of how the pandemic may change voting in the general election and it has not begun any specific programs addressing distance voting options. The campaign stated their focus at the moment is community outreach.
“This is a moment of unity, a shared experience in a global pandemic. For the time being, that is what our campaign is focused on.”
The incumbent Casten faces Republican Jeanne Ives in the fall. Ives is using social media to talk about her priorities for the COVID-19 response. On her campaign website, Ives also blasted her opponent in response to the congressional relief package.
It’s still too early to say how COVID-19 will affect the November election. Illinois decided to hold it’s March 17 primary election, despite concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Tuesday is the last day the election authority can transmit to the State Board of Elections the number of vote by mail ballots counted following review for the primary election.