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House candidate Will Cunningham.

In NJ-2, Democrats take divergent paths as primary comes to its end

No door-knocking for Cunningham’s campaign

By Nikita Biryukov, July 01 2020 6:30 pm

Democratic candidates in the second congressional district are taking divergent paths in the final days before the primary.

Political science professor Brigid Harrison’s campaign, which has the backing of six of the district’s eight Democratic County chairs, has taken to knocking voters’ doors in moderation instead of the typical full-court press seen this close to an election.

“Door-to-door is something that the strategists on our campaign have a belief in, and COVID has been a challenge in that regard,” said Matthew Frankel, a senior advisor on the Harrison campaign. “There is certainly a great deal of individual engagement happening with voters, but in terms of this massive door-to-door operation, that’s something we haven’t been able to do because of safety issues”

Former congressional staffer Will Cunningham’s campaign has taken an even more cautious stance, cutting its door-to-door activities to nothing.

Both campaigns are still looking to engage voters in-person, but those activities are largely limited to public places in the state’s great outdoors.

“We’re trying to just talk to voters in a safe manner, at grocery stores sometimes or on the boardwalk, and things like that. Outdoors stuff,” Cunningham campaign advisor Kaushal Thakkar said.

In contrast, Amy Kennedy’s campaign is turning to digital events and phone banks to keep voters invested as the race grinds to a close.

“We have really dedicated volunteers who are making an average of over 1,200 calls a day to voters. We’ve adapted to a new way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are continuing to put together virtual events where the community can come together in a safe way,” Kennedy campaign manager Josh Roesch said. “Tonight, we’ll be on Facebook live with Governor Murphy talking about the importance of making sure everyone’s voices are heard and voting in the primary elections.”

Murphy endorsed Kennedy last week, putting him opposite Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen) and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-Newark), who have endorsed Harrison.

The candidate will host a separate virtual event on infant and maternal mortality with First Lady Tammy Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver tomorrow, Roesch said.

Cunningham will host his own virtual event with Bill Cobb, the former deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s campaign for smart justice, on Friday.

As of June 17, Kennedy held a sizeable cash advantage heading into the final days of the primary with $236,004 banked to the Harrison’s $9,776 and Cunningham’s $55,773.

She’s also spent the most on Facebook ads.

Through June 28, Kennedy has put $39,800 behind ads appearing on Facebook and Instagram, with $3,088 of that spending coming between June 22 and June 28.

As of now, the candidate has three ads active on the social media platform. The first touts the endorsements of Murphy, the New Jersey Education Association and Martin Luther King III. The second promises healthcare legislation while brandishing the Kennedy name, and the final ad simply instructs voters on how to vote for Kennedy by mail.

Harrison, who has spent $4,468 on digital ads this cycle, with just $284 spent between June 22 and June 28, has no ads active on the platform.

Cunningham’s online ad spending comes in second. According to Facebook’s Ad Library, the candidate has spent $11,018 on the platform this cycle, with $1,373 spent between June 22 and June 28.

The library shows a single live ad for Cunningham, a 101-second spot pushing the candidate’s qualifications and life story.

Cunningham’s campaign is also planning to launch a radio ad on the Philadelphia radio station Power 99 that will run through election day on Thursday and will launch at least one additional mailer before the race comes to a close.

Harrison’s campaign was less forthcoming about their advertising strategy

“I would just say we’re leaving it all on the playing field. We’re taking nothing for granted, and that we’re utilizing every platform available to make sure that as many people participate and vote as possible,” Frankel said. “In terms of specifics, we’re not going to kind of itemize those for you, but every platform is being utilized.”

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