Each legislative district for the Oregon House of Representatives holds an average of around 65,000 people, only a fraction of whom are registered voters with any particular party. With those relatively small numbers, House primary candidates are usually out knocking on doors, attending house parties and community events, holding coffee klatches and happy hours, aiming to get face-to-face time with, well, most every likely primary voter.
But COVID-19 has put a stop to this traditional campaigning. What now? We talked to candidates in two Portland districts where the contested primary is essentially the general election; no Republicans have filed to run for these seats, and (though there may be third-party candidates in the general election) the winner of the Democratic contest in May will be a veritable shoo-in to become the representative for next year’s Oregon Legislature. In District 42 (largely inner Southeast from Kerns to Creston-Kenilworth), which is home to the second-highest number of registered Democrats in the state, Rob Nosse is running for a fourth term and has drawn a challenger, Paige Kreisman, and in District 46 (just east of 42, Laurelhurst to Mt Scott-Arleta and Kelly Butte), three Democrats are vying for a seat being vacated by the retiring Alissa Keny-Guyer.
“Our campaign’s pretty fortunate to be in a place where we can be really adaptable. We started really early in our canvassing. We already knocked on 25,000 doors, and there are about 35,000 registered Democrats in this district. [Stopping canvassing] was an easy decision to make for the health of the community. We’re definitely not stopping [campaigning]. We have over 500 volunteers, and we’re going to be phone banking, texting. I’m doing digital canvassing, where I send a link to up to 15 people, and they can click to join a video chat if they want to talk.”
—Paige Kreisman, District 42 Democrat
“The main thing is we’re just not canvassing. We’re going to try phone banks, but to be honest those aren’t as effective as canvassing. Maybe in light of everybody staying home more people will answer [their phone], but the accuracy of phone numbers in voter records is pretty low. We’ll do more social media, look at doing more mail. We’re looking at platforms for digital house parties that let people jump in.
—Rob Nosse, District 42 Democrat
“We had a campaign kickoff party and seven or eight house parties [planned]. The kickoff party is done, because of the coronavirus. The house parties are delayed, but probably done, because of the coronavirus. I had been going door to door, but that’s now stopped, because of the coronavirus. That’s left me with a phone bank. Which I am calling every day. But that’s it.”
—Jeff Cogen, District 46 Democrat
“I’m worried about our most vulnerable populations and how both the virus and the economic repercussions will affect them. If we can’t work, we can’t pay bills. We need rent and mortgage freezes now.... Door to door canvassing is now out as well as we adapt to this new normal. I’m putting the campaign on hiatus for the moment while focusing on what’s best for my community and loved ones in these unprecedented times. Politics can wait.”
—Shawn MacArthur, District 46 Democrat
“We were planning last Saturday to do a field canvass, and we canceled it. I’m going to be doing a community chat on Facebook, to share concerns, to share resources. Coronavirus really exposes the systemic inequalities of communities that have always been vulnerable. We weren’t planning to do [phone banking and texting] so soon, but we’re looking at what people can do at this time, and also just checking in to make sure people are OK.... It’s important to remember that social distancing isn’t social isolation.”
—Khanh Pham, District 46 Democrat