Angela Alexander saw the challenges ahead when she decided to run for public office.
The Summit County assistant prosecutor chose to take on Stark County Probate Judge Dixie Park’s bid for re-election.
Among the hurdles: Park has been a judge for nearly 17 years, and incumbent judges seldom lose.
Also, Park hasn’t been afraid to spend money on campaigning, including dropping $270,000 of her own money in her first election in 2004. In 2008, she fended off a primary challenger with $88,000 in in-kind contributions to her campaign.
Alexander scheduled a March fundraiser at Arrowhead Golf Club in North Canton in hopes of narrowing the finance gap. But as coronavirus spread in Ohio, Alexander said, she was forced to cancel and donate the food to a church pantry.
“When everything started to shut down, it felt like we had to shift gears immediately with no precedent of it and no idea how we’re going to run a completely virtual campaign,” said Alexander, who was running on a platform of reducing Probate Court staff turnover and expanding online access to court records.
As of June 30, Alexander had raised less than $6,100, much of it from a February fundraiser. Her campaign had less than $5,000 cash on hand. Her campaign plan of attending public events like fairs and Rotary lunches was also in tatters.
As of May 29, Park had raised $15,300 from a fundraiser she held at Skyland Pines Golf Club in February. She and her husband had spent more than $31,000 of their own money on in-kind contributions to her campaign, most of it on advertising.
Alexander is among several candidates running for public office who aren’t widely known in Stark County who have had to rethink their campaigns due to the coronavirus.
Knocking on doors, shaking hands at the Stark County Fair, marching in parades, addressing the North Canton Jaycees, attending a Rotary Club or chamber of commerce luncheon or speaking at an in-person candidates’ night are no longer options.
“I have a mom who has high risk,” said Alexander. “I do not want to put anyone at risk just so I can hand out a piece of paper.”
Fundraising is also affected due to the economic impact of the virus.
“Do I want to ask people who may be struggling for money?” Alexander asked, adding that she’s sent out a mailer soliciting campaign donations.
Alexander said she’s posted videos online about her candidacy. She gave away masks with her campaign sticker on them. She held a virtual fundraiser through video conferencing on Aug. 13.
“I believe that a lot of the word of mouth and Facebook and social media is going to play a huge role in where people stand when it comes to November,” said Alexander.
Park, who lives in Jackson Township, said she had to cancel two other fundraising events and planned appearances at civic events, festivals, church events and parades. And she plans to send out a letter soliciting campaign funds.
Park said she’s still mulling how she can tout her work to establish a volunteer guardianship program, how she set up a team of government and non-profit agencies to protect the elderly from neglect/abuse and how she set up a dispute resolution program for family members disputing a loved one’s guardianship.
“I think we’re all social beings, and it’s more beneficial to be able to have an in-person event if possible,” said Park, who suggested that Alexander was exaggerating turnover in her office by including temporary interns.
Candidates are turning to Zoom video conferences, fundraising letters, phone fundraising pitches and social media as well as the costly, traditional mail to get their messages out.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, is seeking a 10th term as congressman in the 13th Congressional District, after his unsuccessful bid for president last year. He’s attending exclusively virtual events like Zoom meetings. And he’s hosting Facebook Live videos to tout a plan to provide up to $6,000 a month in assistance per household and widen access to health care, said his campaign spokesman Dennis Willard.
Ryan represented Ohio in the Democratic National Convention video roll call.
“He’s running a very aggressive online campaign, and we’re out on television very soon,” said Willard.
His Republican opponent, former State Rep. Christina Hagan, of Marlboro Township, did not respond to a text message seeking comment.
President Donald Trump in July gave her “my Complete and Total Endorsement” in a tweet with a fundraising link on Twitter. And she posted a video on Twitter thanking Trump for his endorsement.
“I can’t wait to come alongside you to help repatriate our manufacturing base in this state,” she said.
Ryan’s and Hagan’s Libertarian Party opponent, Dr. Michael Fricke, 45, of Franklin Township near Kent, said he’s a pharmaceutical chemist who could not do much campaigning as he had been working 80 hours a week on developing COVID-19 therapies. But he’s done a couple of Zoom events as he’s advocated drug legalization, legalizing victimless crimes like consensual prostitution while fighting human trafficking, shrinking government and bringing the military home.
“People don’t want to answer their doors,” said Fricke, who’s raised less than $5,000 in campaign funds. “I’m realistic. I’m not going to win the election.”
Brandon Lape, the Libertarian Party candidate for congressman for the 7th Congressional District, said he will start this week knocking on doors in the district, including in Stark, Tuscarawas, Knox, Holmes and Ashland counties.
Lape, 38, a married father of two and computer support technician from Danville in Knox County, will talk about his support for ending qualified immunity for public employees and police officers; allowing people to opt out of paying into Social Security; eliminating mandatory minimum sentences; and legalizing drugs.
He said though he opposes mask mandates, he will respect voters by wearing a mask and move to 6 feet away after he knocks.
“At this point, I have to do it with the fairs being canceled, and that not being available to me, I have to go door-to-door to get my name out there and drive traffic to my site,” Lape said. “I was trying to have virtual town hall meetings through Zoom. That actually was unsuccessful. … I couldn’t get anybody to show up. I think the most I had at one Zoom meeting was 15 people.”
Quentin Potter, the Democratic congressional candidate for the 7th District, said the pandemic forced him to abandon plans to “crisscross the district.”
“We’re going digital on some of the advertising. There have been a number of Zoom meetings I’ve been invited to attend,” said Potter, 64, of Plain Township who’s a former budget analyst for the Ohio Office of Budget and Management. He’s running on a message “that good government matters. That you need to embrace the things that government can do” and criticizing Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs of Lakeville for voting in “lockstep” with Trump.
“Right now I’m not asking anybody to canvass anybody. We’ve not put on a field staff for that reason,” said Potter. “I don’t think it’s right to send people out amid the Covid environment we’re experiencing. We’re going to be relying on digital efforts. And we’re going to be relying on mail.”
He added, “I understood it was an uphill climb when I got into this. And Covid made that hill even steeper. But we’re going to continue working everyday.”
Both Lape and Potter as of June 30 had each raised less than $5,000 in campaign funds. Since 2019, Gibbs’ campaign raised more than $120,000.
Gibbs due to the pandemic canceled his annual hog roast fundraiser, which usually has up to 200 donors as guests, said his campaign spokesman Dallas Gerber.
“We’re still using digital tools to contact voters whether it’s online, texting or phone,” said Gerber, adding that Gibbs as he talks about maintaining law and order amid urban unrest is wearing a mask and socially distancing for in-person events. “This fall, we’ll do some door-to-door if we deem it appropriate.”
Reach Robert at (330) 580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter; @rwangREP