In a tight race in Virginia, Covid concerns still make campaigning difficult for Democrats

ARLINGTON, Virginia – The pandemic robbed Tempe Hoff’s last job, as a butler at a luxury hotel in Atlanta. That complicates her current work, as it knocks on doors with her Virginia union to get a vote for Democrat Terry McAuliffe before Tuesday’s election.

But she said it was worth it.

“I think it makes a huge difference to help get them to come out and vote,” said Hof, a member of the Hospitality Unite Here union that enforces strict Covid-19 protocols on 200 vacuum machines in Virginia.

The pandemic has accelerated the transition to digital politics, especially for Democrats, whose volunteers and voters tend to worry more about the coronavirus than Republicans, but party leaders say there is no alternative to old face-to-face conversations.

“There’s a growing hesitation, but for most of 2020, Democrats haven’t knocked on doors at all,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison said after speaking to volunteers heading to knock on doors here Saturday morning. “And in the end, I think it hurts us because the Republicans never stopped. And so we learned that lesson.”

Harrison said that before the double runoff elections for the Georgia Senate in January, he now invited Sens. John Usoff and Raphael Warnock told them they had to find a way to knock on doors safely and believed their decision to do so was crucial to their victories.

“I think that was the reason for the difference,” Harrison said. “Our voters need that personal touch.”

While Republicans more or less continued their usual down-to-earth style throughout the pandemic, last year Democrats halted all in-person operations for several months during the height of the presidential campaign.

So far, in Virginia’s crucial governor’s race, some progressives say they still have trouble getting people to volunteer in person, even though vaccinations have helped ease concerns.

“We’ve noticed a lot of people who are eager to help, but not necessarily excited to be knocking on doors. It has been tough,” said Maya Castillo, political director for New Virginia Majorte, which organizes communities of color.

Castillo said the volunteer groups she spoke with last month wanted to know if she would strive, even though she is immunocompromised, and their fears only subsided when she said she would.

“We’re trying to address concerns, but we’re also trying to be very frank about the urgency of this election,” she said. “With all the digital ways people are being bombarded, I think human contact is really important – especially now during a pandemic.”

The Virginia Democratic Party said that Covid concerns have not harmed their efforts to get out of the vote, adding that they have knocked on more than a million doors since the campaign began. However, four years ago, the party said it had visited nearly 2 million Houses are at a similar point in the state governors race.

Republicans have largely not had to deal with Covid anxiety, reflecting a view on the pandemic that affects not only how they govern, but the campaign. Republican campaigner Glenn Yongkin declined to comment.

While the McAuliffe campaign requires that all employees be vaccinated and adhere to strict protocols – job listings Even for Democratic campaigns that vote after the poll, it lists job requirements including “following social distancing guidelines and COVID safety protocols” — Youngkin opposes vaccine mandates and holds some indoor events where he wears few masks.

When they happen to have teams of Republicans operating in the same neighborhood, some masked Democratic observers said they view their rule-breaking peers with disdain, perhaps a tinge of jealousy.

We have masks in case people forget to bring theirs. “Republicans are telling people they don’t need masks, go straight,” said Jessica Nichols, a Democratic district leader who was working at her party table outside an early polling site in Alexandria.

Even to work at the table, the party required all volunteers to be vaccinated, and Nichols said she and nearly everyone else had received a booster shot.

“Covid is really scary, so we were really careful,” she said. “Getting a vaccine changed everything. Now with boosters, people feel safer.”

Getting people to volunteer as street vendors in their spare time has never been so easy. And some are excited about how Covid, like work, school and much more, is accelerating the already rapid growth of remote alternatives.

We make sure that anyone with a phone, a laptop, and Internet access can make calls or write letters to Virginia voters. This hybrid approach to organizing is where we have to go in 2022 and beyond, said David Berrios, a veteran Democratic field organizer who is now community chair at Swing Left.

Swing Left, which grew out of so-called resistance to former President Donald Trump as a way for liberals in places without competitive races to have influence in battle zones, said she and an affiliate group wrote four times as many letters and sent letters. Three times more phone calls to voters in Virginia than in the last statewide election, though Peereus acknowledged that getting people to knock on doors was “fairly daunting” until recently.

It’s scalable, you can talk to many voters through many different mediums and touches. I believe in the importance of personal touches and I think they are crucial, but when standing in for the vote count, the cost per voter is high, and some campaigns may not enjoy That luxury.”

The Biden campaign’s decision to stop personal organizing last year sparked a long debate about the most effective way to contact voters.

With more ways than ever to reach voters, from text messages to targeted Instagram ads, is the hard and expensive work of going door to door really worth it?

The question is not just an academic one, but is of critical importance to both parties, who are doing extensive post-election research into the impact of various tactics, which they guard as trade secrets.

Academic research available to the public I found mixed results About the effect of any campaign tactic. But in general, face-to-face interactions are still widely regarded as the gold standard.

De Taylor, the international head of UNITE HERE, which deployed thousands of scanners last year with no known outbreaks of Covid and prompted the Biden campaign to resume in-person operations, said de Taylor. “Phone calls, people don’t respond. Digital ads, people pass to the past.”

“We never really understood why people weren’t around the doors last year. You can do it safely and responsibly,” Taylor added. “Republicans certainly understand the importance of in-person vote screening because they do.”

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