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Pandemic creates primary dilemma

Candidates on the primary ballot are facing an unprecedented dilemma.

Those in competitive primaries — particularly in races in which there’s no general election opponent– likely spent an overwhelming majority of their money in the days leading up to March 17. That was the original date for the in-person primary that would have seen a large majority of voters cast ballots.

The state canceled the March 17 primary late the night before when Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, issued an emergency health order about eight hours before the polls were to open at the request of Gov. Mike DeWine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because cancellation of in-person voting came the day before the primary, candidates on the ballot already had their plans long in place for spending the money they raised to win their party’s nomination.

Some had money left over in their accounts and will use that to carry them through to the new April 28 primary in which virtually everyone will vote by mail.

For example, Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka had $54,997 in his campaign fund as of Feb. 26. Based on him raising no money and spending only $5,313 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26, Polivka isn’t too concerned about the challenges of two Democrats in the primary.

But others are practically broke and really can’t do anything about it.

There is no fundraising going on right now.

It’s a terrible look to ask for money while many people are either out of work or had to take a pay cut particularly during a pandemic that is killing people.

So very few additional campaign contributions are going to come.

If candidates have the money to get them through the April 28 primary, what are they going to spend it on?

Yard signs seem like a waste when the state has a stay-at-home order, with a few exceptions, significantly reducing the number of people outside. There aren’t a lot of people who will see the yard signs.

Also, the effectiveness of yard signs is debatable. Over the years, I’ve seen some candidates have 10 times the amount of yard signs than their opponents, but get destroyed in the election.

If you’ve got the money, you can use traditional media to get your message out.

A number of candidates have turned to social media, particularly Facebook, not necessarily to advertise, but to get the message out through their personal, campaign and other political accounts that yes, there is an election and please vote for me.

These are virtual front-porch campaigns, but they are very limited in scope.

It’s important to play to your base and remind them that the primary date has changed, to request a mail-in ballot and the process for how to return it in time for their vote to be counted. But how many people are paying attention to this election?

During presidential years, the race for that spot is largely responsible for overall turnout.

On the Republican side, President Donald Trump is the only candidate on the ballot. While he has his staunch supporters, it’s doubtful many are going to be motivated enough to request a ballot just to vote for an unopposed candidate under these existing circumstances.

For Democrats, the names of several presidential candidates appear on the ballot.

But with the Wednesday decision by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to suspend his campaign, the lone Democratic candidate left running for the party’s nomination is former Vice President Joe Biden.

This too, will lower turnout in the state as interest in that primary has largely disappeared now with only one candidate actually running.

On top of all of that, in Mahoning County, there’s only contested races for the Republican nomination for the 13th and 6th Congressional Districts seats and a handful of local levies. The 6th District race isn’t competitive and it’s questionable how many Republicans are going to be motivated to get a ballot for the 13th race.

In Trumbull County, there are a number of contested races. But with people worried about being largely isolated, being unemployed and / or getting COVID-19, who is going to be their political party’s nominees for elected offices isn’t at the top of their priority list.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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