U.S. Rep. Josh Harder, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Ted Howze continue to campaign now that the coronavirus is upon us. But their methods, like many things about our lives, have changed.
Meet-and-greets are a thing of the past. Rallies and speeches: same. Door-to-door canvassing: forget it.
“We’ve suspended the vast majority of our campaign activities and are trying to help within our community,” said Howze, holding a 4-pack of toilet paper, in a video clip two weeks ago. He had launched Operation Compassion, a drive to collect canned goods, cleaning supplies and other hard-to-find products and distribute them to needy seniors and disabled veterans.
The goodwill effort this week morphed into a two-day bread give-away to anyone driving by his Salida campaign headquarters, where young volunteers brought sacks of bread to grateful people with rolled-down windows, without regard to age — or party affiliation. An anonymous donor had contributed the bread; Howze gave out about 1,800 loaves on Monday and Tuesday, with more reserved for Wednesday in Manteca.
Harder, in his turn, is reaching out in an official capacity — introducing bills linked to the coronavirus (paid sick leave, signed into law by President Trump, and calling for universal access to vaccinations once they’re developed), issuing press releases about his stimulus votes in Washington, D.C. , and holding town-hall-by-telephone discussions with public health officers in both Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. This week, he hosted a webinar to help small business owners take advantage of relief. A couple of weeks ago, Harder wrote a letter to fellow Gen Zers published in this opinions section, and he invited reporters to tag along as he toured Stanislaus County’s coronavirus command center in Modesto.
The congressman’s re-election campaign for the 10th Congressional District is busy as well, with volunteers serving meals at a Modesto shelter. Harder’s campaign quickly recognized that the virus would decimate local nonprofits by robbing them of volunteer labor when it’s most needed. So he used his influence in a fundraising drive for United Way of Stanislaus County, which contributes to a number of local charities delivering food and other supplies to the homebound.
In an email blast, Harder requested that supporters donate to United Way’s COVID-19 response fund instead of his own campaign, saying, “some things are bigger than politics;” in another, he suggested donating to or volunteering at Second Harvest food bank.
Both candidates are posting short video clips almost daily on social media sites, trying to stay connected with voters. Both have praised first responders, and both have served as pitchmen for local restaurants serving to-go food.
Of course, both find time to exchange barbs, in Facebook posts and campaign emails.
Howze says “China’s communist government irresponsibly lied to the world about the outbreak” and “must be held to account for the serious damage they’ve caused to the world economy” — words that rally conservative supporters while repelling progressives. He regularly invokes Nancy Pelosi, calling her “Josh Harder’s biggest supporter & cheerleader” and criticizing Democrats’ handling of stimulus legislation.
Harder responded indignantly.
“I’ve never felt more icky in my short political career than when I saw national Republicans and my opponent Ted Howze attacking me for doing my job,” he wrote, accusing Howze of “decid(ing) to politicize the coronavirus pandemic.”
Both have adopted sad tones in recent notes to surely sympathetic supporters, asking for money.
Howze: “I wish we didn’t have to do politics at a time like this, but it underscores why we need to defeat Harder and Pelosi.”
Harder: “I wish I didn’t have to write this email, because it’s pretty despicable, but here I am.”
I wish that these candidates didn’t feel so picked on, forced to alter their campaign approaches in the time of coronavirus. But here we are.