Campaigning in the time of COVID-19: How are candidates fundraising, adjusting their platforms?

Monday, April 20, 2020 - 7:19pm

.Solomon Rajput, candidate for Michigan's 12th Congressional District, canvasses at houses in Ann Arbor prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

.Solomon Rajput, candidate for Michigan's 12th Congressional District, canvasses at houses in Ann Arbor prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

During the COVID-19 crisis, the state and national governments have been attempting to work together to provide medical supplies and implement shelter-in-place guidelines to slow the spread of the virus. Yet with the general election less than 200 days away and the 12th Congressional District primary only 106 days away, the congressional campaigns in the state of Michigan are faced with the difficult decision of whether to start fundraising or to stay focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

Campaigns have had to get creative during the pandemic as they move online. With door-to-door organizing out of the question and gala fundraisers unable to take place, the question becomes: How do candidates bring in donations?

In March, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who is facing a primary opponent in August, told The Daily campaigning was not her priority and her primary focus continues to be on serving Ann Arbor residents during the pandemic. While speaking with The Daily on Wednesday, she said she is still committed to serving and communicating with her constituency. 

“I am not focused on fundraising right now. I think we need to be focused on killing this virus once and for all,” Dingell said. “I’m trying to make sure (constituents) know about the issues, that we’re educating them. Reaching out to people. Getting people that I work with to do neighbor checks, to check on people in their community, to reach out to seniors that feel alone.”

Dingell acknowledged that she will need to get back on the campaign trail.

“At some point, I’ll have to start to campaign again because the primary is in August,” Dingell said. “But I have not felt it was appropriate or the right thing to do and therefore, I’m not. I will at some point, but I won’t right now.”

Solomon Rajput, the 27-year-old medical student who is challenging Dingell in the Democratic primaries in August, has moved his entire campaign online. He said it’s a challenging time to fundraise when the U.S. is experiencing a surge in unemployment and the economy is headed toward a recession. In order to keep his grassroots campaign afloat, the millennial progressive has taken to social media for fundraising. 

“We are on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook regularly,” Rajput said. “We’ve been making fundraising ads over social media and posting on them just making really small, small dollar asks, like $5.”

Additionally, using these social platforms, the Rajput campaign also contacts people individually by sending them direct messages explaining his campaign platform and sending them a link to donate to the campaign.

“That has been very successful for us,” Rajput said. 

COVID-19 has not only impacted fundraising and campaigns but all forms of politics. Many Democrats have argued the pandemic exposes systematic weaknesses in the health care system.

Dingell said the virus has made her “double down” on her support for Medicare for All.

“I think that a microscope has been put on the disparities that exist on our health care system in this country,” Dingell said. “I have been a supporter of Medicare for All since I went to the Congress and chaired the Medicare for All Caucus in the House, and have sponsored the bill still pending legislation. I think right now, the need (is) to ensure that everybody has access to health care.”

She said she would also like to introduce laws that will reduce the reliance of supply chains on international markets.

“(We need) to bring our supply chain back to this country so we’re never short (on) medicine or equipment again,” said Dingell. “We cannot be this dependent on China and India for our medicines, have shortages, not have people have access to it. We need to make more of our medicine here. It’s not only a cost issue, it’s a national security issue. And I think … people really do recognize — Republicans and Democrats — that we have to do (it).”

Similarly, Rajput said the COVID-19 pandemic has solidified his support of Medicare for All and emphasized how the government should ensure that Americans are able to get through this crisis without falling into dire financial straits.

“The need for Medicare for All has always been incredibly important,” Rajput said. “We need a health care system where people can go and see a doctor if they’re getting sick. So … during this coronavirus epidemic, we need to make sure that we are helping people get through this horrific experience without becoming financially destitute.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., has also been running a close re-election campaign against challenger John James, a Republican businessman who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in 2018.

LSA senior Marianne Drysdale is the current co-president of Students for Gary Peters. The student group is not directly affiliated with Peter’s campaign but the goal was to create enthusiasm among college-aged students to mobilize voters for the senator’s re-election.

Previously, Drysdale spoke to The Daily about how their group tried to tap into their digital networks in order to continue to campaign for Peters. Yet with students moving off-campus within weeks, Drysdale said the student branch of the organization fell apart.

“Students for Peters was going to leverage the benefits of campus residential life, collective student energy, and peer to peer contact to get people excited about the campaign,” Drysdale wrote in an email. “Our semester was going to include mass meetings, tabling in mason hall (sic) and on the diag (sic), organizing phone banks, linking up students to carpool to campus events, etc. Without a real sense of campus community, there didn’t seem too much of a role for a student organization branch that was different from other digital organizing strategies.”  

The Peters campaign did not provide comment in time for publication. 

The James campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Moving forward, Dingell said she hopes there will be a bipartisan analysis and legislation to ensure a pandemic like COVID-19 never happens again.

“I’m not focused on being political … this is the time that we have all got to come together, not take cheap shots and focus on defeating this invisible enemy,” Dingell said. “But when this is done, we need a calm, cool, collected analysis of why this happened, how this happened and how we make sure that it never happens again.”

Reporter Julia Fanzeres can be reached at julfan@umich.edu.