Holly Otterbein and Alex Thompson
In-person campaigning was one of the subjects of a private call last week in Pennsylvania between Biden campaign officials and state party leaders. In a sign of the party’s mounting anxiety over the issue, Democrats in the critical battleground state left the call with wildly different interpretations of the conversation.
Some top state party officials told POLITICO after the call that the Biden team discussed the possibility of a return to door-knocking, though it had not made any final decisions. But Biden aides insisted they are not considering that and that there must have been a misunderstanding: They said they only talked about plans to begin door-to-door literature drops — essentially canvassing, but with more limited, if any, human contact — and open distribution centers where people can pick up signs and other campaign materials.
“If you asked anybody off the record from the Biden campaign, I think they’d be like ‘Yeah, we want to be on doors.’ The reality is we still have a pandemic going on,” said Jason Henry, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, afterward. “Those conversations are still being had because we want to make sure we do this safely.”
Some Pennsylvania Democrats are not waiting for Biden’s imprimatur and have taken matters into their own hands. The Democratic Party in Erie County, Pa. — a key area that Trump won in 2016 after former President Barack Obama carried it four years earlier — said it has engaged in what it calls “soft talk” with voters while dropping off literature and materials at their homes.
“Folks will come out and talk to us and I feel like it’s a more fruitful conversation,” said Jim Wertz, chair of the Erie County Democrats. “They come out and talk to us about Joe Biden and how do I get signs.”
The Maine Democratic Party field staff is also doing some limited door-knocking with public health precautions in place, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and keeping more than six feet of distance from the doors after knocking, said a spokesperson for Gideon’s campaign, which, by tradition, coordinates its field program through the state party. The Montana Democratic Party is doing door-to-door campaigning as well.
Julie Slomski, a state Senate candidate seeking to flip a red seat in Pennsylvania, said she wears a mask, uses hand sanitizer, rings doorbells with her knuckles, and stays 12 steps away while door-knocking. She said she always asks voters if they are comfortable with her being there when she greets them.
“I haven’t had anybody say no yet,” she said. “I start off with, ‘How have you been during the pandemic? Is there anything we can do to help connect some dots?’ Some folks say they might need some masks, and I purchase them masks.”
Ryan Bizzarro, a state representative running for reelection in an Erie County, Pa. district that Trump won in 2016, said his campaign resumed door-knocking with multiple safety precautions more than a month ago.
“I think running a virtual campaign is important,” he said. “But … on Nov. 3, I don’t want there to be a, ‘What if? What if I would have been on the ground? What if?’ I don’t want that.”
In the swing state of Wisconsin, Lee Snodgrass — one of the state party’s vice chairs also running for the state assembly — has also been knocking on doors herself. “Voter contact is how you get votes,” she told her local NPR affiliate.