Door-to-door campaigning has received Gov. Phil Murphy’s measured blessing of approval, and candidates may be able to take advantage of ground games that have been shelved for months amid the pandemic — if they’re careful.
“I think candidates have to be very careful. I’m not wild about door-to-door, frankly. I’m not saying you can’t do it, but you’ve got to be really careful,” Murphy said. If you’re outside, that’s clearly better than inside, so that’s a good thing. If you are going to do it, please keep social distancing so you’re not right on top of each other.”
For months, campaigns have relied on purely remote means — be they mailers or digital or television advertisements — to win voters in the absence of in-person campaigning.
In March, door-knocking risked not only the lives of the voter and campaign but also the health of a campaign. In-person campaigning then would have brought swarms of negative media attention and, possibly, a charge for violating Murphy’s executive order.
But that was March.
“The political landscape right now is like a kaleidoscope that keeps turning,” said Ben Dworkin, founding director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship. “Everything is shifting very quickly, and so what might not have been acceptable just a couple of weeks ago is now not as worrisome.”
It’s not clear how effective a traditional ground game would be. Even with the state’s rate of new COVID-19 cases down more than 90% from its all-time high, residents may be unwilling to open their doors to a stranger.
But, Dworkin said, proper precautions could help assuage those fears, and ignoring those precautions could still lead to retribution at the ballot box.
“If the candidate is there without a mask and gets too close to the individual voter, then sure, it could backfire,” Dworkin said. “But I don’t think people are going to yell at you for ringing a doorbell and taking a few steps back, not like they might have a few weeks ago.”