Campaigning and COVID

Among the many qualities Hoosiers seek in elected officials, a genuine concern for the health and well-being of constituents ranks at the very top.

This fall, candidates can demonstrate that concern by following public health directives designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In short, no shaking hands and no kissing babies.

And no following the example set by President Donald Trump.

The Trump campaign has conducted packed indoor rallies attended by unmasked supporters, defying medical experts’ testimony that the coronavirus spreads readily among crowds indoors.

Since July, dozens of Secret Service agents have contracted the coronavirus or been quarantined after exposure at public events arranged for the president and Vice President Mike Pence, according to multiple media reports.

Trump, Pence and their Republican Party flouted public health directives during the GOP convention in August. Untested attendees without masks stood shoulder to shoulder and Pence carelessly shook hands and bumped fists.

Perhaps the most egregious example of the president’s willingness to put Americans at direct risk of coronavirus exposure came in late June at his campaign rally in Tulsa. A local health department official connected the dots between the rally, attended by about 6,000 people, and a coronavirus surge two weeks later in the Oklahoma city.

Trump was back at it again with an indoor rally Sept. 13 in Henderson, Nevada, where he spoke to thousands of supporters, few of whom wore masks, as the nation’s COVID-19 death total approached 200,000, a mark now surpassed.

Instead of following the poor example set by the president, Hoosier candidates for everything from Congress to the Legislature to county councils to court benches must be careful — and creative — in their approach to connecting with the public.

Instead of meet-and-greet functions, how about live-stream discussions online? Instead of chicken-and-noodle dinners, how about a virtual dinner party on Zoom?

Not all traditional campaign staples have to be scrapped. Some can be modified.

Knocking on doors is still a great way to connect with voters and to gauge their public policy concerns. But this fall, candidates must be sure to wear masks and keep a six-foot distance. As always, they must be respectful of residents who choose not to answer the door.

Now that Indiana is in Stage 5 of the governor’s plan to reopen the state’s economy, larger gatherings are possible, provided the campaign has submitted a plan and has a stamp of approval from the local health department.

A sure way to gain the trust of voters is to make sure the plan for such gatherings is followed to the letter. A sure way to lose that trust is to host packed indoor events where masks and social distancing are tossed out the window.

For candidates across Indiana, willingness to adhere to safe campaign practices demonstrates a sincere concern for the health of fellow Hoosiers.