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Campaigning during COVID-19: 4th Congressional District candidates get creative online

FILE: Voters outside of the Madison Community Center polling place for the Democratic presidential primary on Super Tuesday on March 3, 2020 in Arlington, VA. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s 4th Congressional District is one of the hottest races in the country. But with social distancing rules in place, candidates are looking to get creative by campaigning online to reach voters.

Online campaigning: a new way of reaching voters 

For example, voters are getting to know State Representative Kim Coleman (R-West Jordan) on Facebook Live. 

“That came to be referred to as our ‘show’ because I typically would have guests mainly so we could talk about the issues in a forum that is more interactive than me just staring at a blank screen. And I think that has been very effective,” Coleman said. 

Former KSL News Radio host Jay MacFarland is another Republican seeking this seat. He has been blending more traditional campaigning with campaigning online.

“I spend most of my days in my house. We do most of the campaigning on the phone. I make over 100 phone calls a day to possible voters. And then through Zoom meetings. So, we do weekly Zoom cottage meetings with anybody that wants to get to know me or talk to me,” MacFarland said. 

Representative Ben McAdams, the incumbent and Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, said he’s more focused on helping constituents than campaigning. 

“It’s definitely changed how I interact with constituents. I am doing a lot more meetings virtually and [on] telephone calls. Let’s let those interactions be ones that count, that are helping people put food on the table and to provide for themselves. And, so, I’ve tried to recognize that there are more important things than a campaign,” McAdams said. 

McAdams had to stop everything for over a week earlier this year when he ended up in the hospital with COVID-19. 

Back on the Republican side, businessman Trent Christiensen has been texting 24-second videos of his campaign’s message to party delegates and voters, but he’s eager to get back out on the campaign trail. 

“I love to be with people. I really missed out on going out and shaking hands and talking with people and hearing their ideas. We’re starting to plan some events that are in-person but out in the public. Like, at a park where you can socially distance, you can talk to people, they can see you, they can get a feel for you. You’re not shaking a lot of hands or giving hugs, but at least you’re able to be there with people,” Christiensen said. 

Political analyst and former football player Burgess Owens believes his high profile over many decades has helped him connect with Republican voters. But he also wants to be out there shaking hands again. 

“We’ve done a lot of virtual town hall meetings [and] Facebook Live and done it in a way that we can still go out and talk with people. As this begins to open up, we’re going to be creative like small business owners are. What we’re going to do as we get into the summer, as we begin to understand how to safely do this, people that wanted to come and meet me, it will be a very safe environment for them to [do so],” Owens said. 

Another challenge the candidates have in common is fundraising. All candidates said their campaign offers have taken a hit as people have less disposable income due to COVID-19.