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Congressional candidates talk campaigning during a pandemic

Kerry Gibson, Blake Moore, Bob Stephenson and Katie Witt participate in the 1st Congressional District Republican debate on June 2, 2020. (PHOTO: Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY  — Half-a-dozen candidates, who are looking to take over a long-held Congressional seat in Utah, are changing their campaign tactics somewhat “on-the-fly” because of the coronavirus pandemic.

First time, in a long time

For almost two decades, Rob Bishop has held Utah’s First Congressional District seat. It serves the northern part of the state, including Ogden, Logan, Park City, Layton, and Clearfield.

Now for the first time in a long time, the seat is up for grabs.  Bishop is not seeking re-election and has instead joined the Thomas Wright gubernatorial ticket.

Currently, there are six candidates in the race. Four in a crowded Republican field and two on the Democratic side.

Step one for most of these congressional hopefuls is simply getting their name out there and having it stick. A considerably more daunting task in the age of coronavirus.

Meet the candidates

Blake Moore is an Ogden native and former U.S. Foreign Service Officer. He says everyone is still searching for an effective replacement for the typical in-person rallies, speeches and townhalls.

“Zoom meetings … people are wary of it,” he explains. “Everybody has been blasted digitally. In a lot of townhalls, people aren’t engaging there as much.”

Others say it can be difficult to get your money’s worth, so you have to be creative. Jamie Cheek is regional director for the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation. She’s trying to turn a red seat blue for the first time in almost forty years.

“We just rented office space in order to host events … and then the pandemic hit,” she said. “It has actually been a great space to do zoom calls.”

Kerry Gibson, the former Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food, says not only is face-to-face grassroots campaigning often the most effective, but it’s also the cheapest.

“[With] TV, radio and mail we can reach large numbers of people,” he said. “Unfortunately, the challenge with that is that it’s expensive.”

Katie Witt, the current mayor of Kaysville, says her focus is on moving the conversation to where potential voters are. Now more than ever, she says, that means picking up the phone.

“I make hundreds of phone calls every week,” she said. “And they are happy and surprised to be talking to a candidate personally.”

Rounding out the Republican field is former Layton mayor Bob Stevenson. Shoshone leader Darren Parry is challenging Jamie Cheek for the Democratic nomination.

The ‘good old days’

However these candidates go about campaigning in a pandemic, it proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. But, they don’t have to like it.

I would much rather be able to have that one-on-one connection with people,” – Kerry Gibson. 

I might be weird, but I love knocking doors, because I love talking to people,” – Katie Witt.

I consider myself an extrovert. Every personality test I’ve ever taken would confirm that,” – Blake Moore