All politics is localized, thanks to coronavirus: Handshakes, door-knocking are out — texting, fist bumps are in

Wary voters aren’t answering doors. And they don’t want to be handed any literature. That means more phone calls, texts and staying out of voters’ personal space. It’s an election like the state has never seen before as Illinois — and the rest of the world — grapple with the global pandemic.

SHARE All politics is localized, thanks to coronavirus: Handshakes, door-knocking are out — texting, fist bumps are in
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx offers a health conscious fist bump to a supporter during a campaign stop

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx offers a health conscious fist bump to a supporter during a campaign stop at Cecina Grill in Pilsen on Wednesday as Lawrence Benito, left, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) look on.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Get-out-the-vote rallies are being scrapped, Sunday morning church visits rethought and doors left un-knocked.

Those are a just a few of the ways the coronavirus is reshaping the final weekend ofcampaigning leading up to Tuesday’s primary.

Wary voters aren’t answering doors. And they don’t want to be handed any literature.

Don’t shake hands, the Illinois Democratic Party is advising campaigns that have reached out for advice.

That means more phone calls, texts and staying out of voters’ personal space.

And fist bumps.

It’s an election like the state has never seen before as Illinois — and the rest of the world — grapple with the global pandemic.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s race, one of the most high-profile primary campaigns this year, is seeing some shifts. Incumbent Kim Foxx this week canceled a women’s rally — and her campaign has doubled down on social media messaging, especially to remind voters early voting may be a better option.

“We’re really just trying to keep an eye on all the developments, the news out there and really listening to the guidelines that public officials are giving in regards to keeping Kim safe, keeping staff safe and keeping voters safe,” Foxx spokeswoman Claudia Tristan said.

Foxx is also forgoing the traditional Election Night party and holding a media-only news conference in the South Loop.

Cook County State’s Attorney candidates Bob Fioretti, left, and Bill Conway greet each other with their own fist bumps at Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen.

Cook County State’s Attorney candidates Bob Fioretti, left, and Bill Conway, right, whose daughter and wife joined him, greet each other with their own fist bumps as they both meet would-be voters at Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen on Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times files

Across the state’s northern border, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin on Friday ended all in-person canvassing and postponed all in-person events. The party announced it’s replacing its traditional campaign operation with a digital organizing program ahead of its Election Day, which is April 7.

The Illinois Democratic Party hasn’t issued any formal advisories but campaigns have reached out for guidance, according to party spokeswoman Maura Possley.

Possley said the party is recommending common sense public health guidelines, such as washing hands and using hand sanitizer.

“Don’t shake hands with folks and try to stand back,” Possley said. “Keep a social distance from voters, and then volunteers who fall into the vulnerable population —older people and those who are immunosuppressed — who are canvassing, stay away from crowds.”

The Cook County Democratic Party has not given out a blanket directive for campaigns either, but Delmarie Cobb, spokeswoman for party chair, Cook County Board Toni Preckwinkle, said leadership is “not really telling anyone to change what they had planned in terms of campaigning this week.”

“What she [Preckwinkle] is doing of course is still recommending that everyone follow the steps public health authorities are saying in terms of close contact and washing hands and staying home if you’re sick,” Cobb said. “If you want to avoid the crowds, she suggests that people vote early.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, center, along with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, second from left, and other elected and health officials give their daily coronavirus update iThursday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, center, along with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, second from left, and other elected and health officials give their daily coronavirus update iThursday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Hanah Jubeh, a political consultant running several races this election cycle, said several campaign workers and volunteers are being pulled from the field to maintain their safety and security. Jubeh said a Thursday news conference by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Preckwinkle helped switch the direction of the campaigns.

“We already had been planning a shift for our folks to some sort of phone effort to make sure we can still accommodate goals,” Jubeh said. “We sent out an email encouraging supporters to take advantage of vote by mail before the deadline, as well as recording a series of calls encouraging them to remind people that they have the option to vote by mail.”

Jubeh said voters are “less reluctant” to want to engage with volunteers outside polling places, as well.

“We have visuals in terms of signage, alternative means of making sure that people who are standing at the polling location are more verbal than transactional,” Jubeh said.

Jubeh said people aren’t opening doors to campaign volunteers either.

“We’ve heard from a number of folks in the field,” Jubeh said.

Jubeh’s campaigns, which include Abdelnasser Rashid’s run for the Cook County Board of Review as well as several Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago races, said campaigns are “trying to find creative ways” to get their message out in a state of chaos.

“Originally there were plans to send bodies out. We’re kind of pulling bodies back. We’re making plans for an Election Day that we expect will be phone driven,” Jubeh said. “Anything remote, phone, text, and doing it remotely means people will be doing it from the comfort of one’s home. One campaign is using HubDialer [a virtual dialer], eliminating congregating people together in confined spaces.”

Joanna Klonsky, a progressive political consultant running several campaigns, said Democratic Party voters are very engaged, and the number of requested mail-in ballots proves that.

“Voters are going to find ways to participate, and it’s incumbent upon Democratic party institutions and campaigns to offer them guidance about how to get involved in this new landscape,” Klonsky said. “Either by driving them towards moving into online activity like phone banking, texting out to vote, driving people to share information with their friends on social media and driving people to give donations if they can’t door knock. There are digital tactics as opposed to typical, more traditional field tactics.”

Klonsky said now is a good opportunity for campaigns to experiment and try new approaches to getting out the vote.

“But to me, the most important thing is making sure we’re communicating that voters can early vote. We have extended hours right up through Monday and that’s a really good way to vote if people are anxious or nervous about going on Election Day,” Klonsky said.

Jacob Meister, a Democratic candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court for Cook County, said most of the campaign events he planned to attend this weekend were canceled.

Instead of marching in St. Patrick Day parades, and attending related breakfast and dinner events with local politicos, Meister said his campaign will do more of an electronic push to reach potential voters.

“We’re doing the best we can to come up with alternative ways with communicating with voters,” Meister said.

Jacob Meister, left; Michael Cabonargi

Jacob Meister, left; Michael Cabonargi

Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Meister said he has noticed at public talks on the campaign trail, fewer people coming and those who do come, deciding to spread themselves apart.

Instead of a big party on Election Night, Meister’s campaign will have a smaller gathering in its office.

Michael Cabonargi, who is also running for Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County as a Democrat, has canceled his Election Night party, a spokeswoman has said.

Rebecca Evans, a spokeswoman for Cabonargi’s campaign, said even with the canceled party, the candidate plans to continue to campaign as usual albeit with a few precautions such as using hand sanitizer.

“As of right now there is still an election on Tuesday and Mike is still doing what he can to communicate with voters,” Evans said.

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