There’s a highly contagious deadly virus rapidly spreading around the state, the country, and the world. The economy is in free fall.
But it’s still an election year and there’s a quarterly federal fund-raising deadline looming at the end of the month. That has some candidates around the country, including Senator Edward J. Markey, pressing forward with appeals to donors.
“We have an FEC deadline coming up, and three polls show our race statistically tied. Can you help us capitalize on this momentum by making a contribution today?" read the subject line of a fund-raising e-mail sent by the Markey campaign Monday.
The body of the e-mail doesn’t directly mention the coronavirus pandemic that has plunged Massachusetts into lockdown. “With so much happening, important elections can fall off our radar screens,” read the message, signed by Markey campaign manager John Walsh, before noting that recent polls had shown the Democratic primary contest between Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III tightening.
“That means the momentum and grassroots energy is on our side, and we need to be able to fund our organizers on the ground,” the e-mail said.
There’s no playbook for what campaigns up and down the ballot are facing right now; every operation is feeling its way forward in this unprecedented public health and economic crisis. Debates and events have been canceled. Candidates have been trying to engage with voters in cyberspace. The economic turmoil has left donors big and small suddenly worried about their pocketbooks, when they’re not freaking out about the health of their loved ones.
Markey appears to be one of a minority of candidates who have decided to restart direct appeals for money. Kennedy, by contrast, suspended all campaign activities on March 13; the campaign remains on hold, though his team is reevaluating the situation at the end of every week. The Kennedy campaign is maintaining contact with volunteers and donors, but not soliciting money through formal channels like e-mail appeals.
David Wasserman, a nonpartisan analyst at The Cook Political Report, said he is on hundreds of campaign e-mail lists and “it’s gone almost silent since the outbreak took off." But he predicted that “once one candidate begins, it’s going to be difficult for other candidates to hold off in the final stretch of a fund-raising period.”
For Markey’s team, the motivation behind continuing to fund-raise comes down to democracy. “We believe a vibrant democracy is a central piece of our response [to the crisis] and how we’re going to get a solution,” said Walsh, the campaign manager.
Supporting democracy means holding elections, and the Markey campaign has 40 staff members driving its grass-roots approach, said Walsh. The campaign needs “to raise the money in order to pay for that kind of effort. So we’re back at it,” he said.
That doesn’t mean they’re working as they were before, of course. Like other campaigns, the Markey team is working remotely, with staffers scattered around the country including Puerto Rico, Connecticut, and South Carolina, because Markey said they should go be where they need to be with family during the crisis. “We are adapting a lot,” said Walsh.
Kennedy, on the other hand, has used his e-mail list to raise money for local service organizations helping the most vulnerable Massachusetts residents during the crisis, including food banks and groups helping the homeless population. The effort has raised $20,000 for those charities to date, according to Kennedy’s campaign. The campaign also donated $3,000 of its cash to local activists in Grove Hall who are providing free meals to local families.
“Families are facing enough right now. Joe is not comfortable asking them for money to support a political campaign. To the extent people are willing or able to donate resources in this moment, he believes those dollars should be going to the front-line workers and organizations keeping the country safe,” said Kennedy campaign spokeswoman Emily Kaufman.
Markey isn’t the only candidate still fund-raising. And some campaigns are approaching the issue carefully. Senator Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota, has acknowledged the financial pressure the economic turmoil is placing on donors, saying in one note, “It’s okay not to donate right now,” while other Senate candidates have given supporters the choice to temporarily opt out of fund-raising appeals, Politico reported.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat considered a prime target for Republicans this year, has been sending out a steady stream of fund-raising e-mails. “If we’re going to defeat Mitch McConnell and the GOP and regain the Senate majority, we have to hit every fundraising goal,” read one e-mail sent late last week.
Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, also has been very active in sending out campaign fund-raising pitches. He is in a tough reelection fight in a state crucial to Democratic hopes for regaining the White House and possibly the Senate.
One recent e-mail more directly framed the appeal for money within the context of the coronavirus crisis than the one sent by Markey. “It’s moments like this where the contrast between Gary and his opponent couldn’t be more clear. While Gary has dedicated his life to fighting for people like you and me, his Trump-picked challenger has shown he will cave to the special interests and extremists in his party,” read part of the Peters campaign fund-raising pitch.