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Campaigning In the Age of Coronavirus


Brand New Congress developed a guide to help candidates for office process the flood of information about COVID19 and adapt their campaigns to protect their communities, volunteers and staff as they find new ways to safely reach voters.

We know this crisis is changing quickly and there are few resources available for campaigns, that’s why we are making this available to any candidate or organizer working for any campaign in this critical election year. No strings attached.

 Get The Guide


It’s been 13 days since the Italian government instituted a nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus, and the first inkling that US officials were beginning to take the burgeoning pandemic seriously. Thirteen days ago Italy had 9,172 cases of COVID19, with a shockingly high death rate that continues to this day. On the same day, the US had 704.

Italy’s caseload surged towards 60,000 this week, and they’ve officially surpassed China in deaths. In one week, the US has surged from 2,943 cases to nearly 40,000. As of this writing, cases in the US are accelerating at 3 times the pace of Italy. You can track the latest numbers here.

One reason for the rapid addition of new cases is the fact we finally, after weeks of delays, have started to test people. But the testing remains maddeningly inadequate, with widespread reports from healthcare providers and desperate family members that patients presenting with all the right symptoms, currently hospitalized, who’ve been ruled out for other viruses or infections, STILL cannot get tested. Even as their doctors and nurses plead with authorities, the tests remain out of reach for most people.

That means our true caseload is many, many times higher than what we are currently seeing reported. And what is being reported is increasing by approximately 40% per day.

The Federal government’s response to this pandemic has been shockingly inept. Beginning with the President who wasted the first month we had to prepare by pretending the virus didn’t even exist or wasn’t really that bad; to the absolute incompetence in self-interest behind the testing delays and critical supply shortages; to the utter dearth of actionable information to help the public understand the crisis and respond accordingly. All of it aided by a willing and compliant right-wing propaganda machine that floated the President’s lies.

The result has been a blunt shock to our economy, Americans stricken with fear for their safety and the health of their loved ones, and a total disruption of our way of life. As the pandemic blossomed, state and local governments have been forced to act with no support from the federal agencies charged with these tasks. Overnight, 18% of US workers report either losing their jobs or having their hours cut as a result of the pandemic. Our patchwork for-profit healthcare system is being stressed at every level, with healthcare workers on the front lines. And with more than 80% of the US economy consisting of service providers, many employees with compromised immune systems who should be self-quarantining are forced to continue working — a choice between staying employed or protecting their health.


Complicating all of this is the fact this is an election year — and a rather important one at that. In addition to all the normal economic and social activities that contribute to the community spread of this robust virus, thousands of candidates are running campaigns all across the country for everything from School Board to President.

This pandemic has ground traditional grassroots campaigning all but to a halt. Until just a few days ago, volunteers were roaming house to house, knocking on doors, handing out literature and talking with neighbors. Campaign staff were organizing events and fundraisers, and scheduling meetings with important leaders of the community. At each stop, they would shake hands, hug, and pose for photos. And because of our barbaric healthcare system, most of them have been doing it without health insurance.

As a scrappy grassroots political organization supporting many candidates just like this, we immediately began to search for guidance we could share with our slate to help them make the inevitable changes needed as the outbreak worsened. We were shocked to find there was none.

No advice from public health officials about upcoming primary elections. No words of caution from election officials, or explanations of how they would adapt their processes. No advice from political party apparatuses or any of their high-dollar consultants. We had dozens of candidates looking for answers and there were none to give them.

So we decided to write the guide ourselves, drawing on expertise within the team and publicly sourced guidelines from official sources like the CDC, WHO and other public health experts.

Pulling together a task force to bring all the necessary pieces together, we drafted the COVID19 Contingency Plan for Campaigns and released it earlier this week to the candidates on the Brand New Congress slate.

The plan covers Risk Assessment, Public Education about the virus, Logistics, and Tactics that candidates are going to have to adapt to campaign in the midst of large quarantine zones. Lastly, we cover Advocacy, guiding campaigns in lobbying election officials for immediate measures needed to make elections safe, breaking down the legislation Congress is working on, what kind of emergency measures we should be advocating, and highlighting the myriad of ways the COVID19 outbreak intersects with the policy agenda of progressive candidates.

It is by no means comprehensive. We have already updated it and will continue to update and expand the guide as often as needed until this crisis has passed.

But we didn’t want to keep it to ourselves. This crisis affects every single one of our communities. No matter which office someone may be running for, even if they’re competing with one of our endorsed candidates, we wanted to empower candidates everywhere with the tools necessary to run safe campaigns. Through this process, we have an opportunity to share our knowledge, test new ideas, and develop new ways for candidates to connect with the communities they seek to serve.

This is not the time to hoard our toilet paper, or our ideas. This is the time to band together as a community and help one another build a better, healthier, safer nation. So we make this resource available for all, and we invite your input for ways to improve it. If your suggestion is incorporated, we will credit the submitting campaign.

We want to thank all who contributed to the development of this plan.

  • Cory Archibald – Board Chair for Brand New Congress
  • Samantha Boucher – Campaign Manager for Kimberly Graham for Iowa
  • Zeynab Day – Director of Communications for Brand New Congress
  • Chris Riley – Campaigns Coach for Brand New Congress
  • Scott Ramsay – Director of Operations for Brand New Congress

Cory has experience in occupational health and safety and drafting emergency action plans. She has worked as a training and development expert for nearly 20 years in a range of challenging environments. Samantha has a background in emergency management and was the first person to reach out to us (in late February) expressing concerns and a need to prepare. Chris is a veteran organizer with more than 20 years’ experience managing campaigns and field operations. She was instrumental in lining out adaptive strategies for field organizing. Zeynab provided her insights on the media, myth-busting, and digital events promotion, while also offering a critical eye from her experience in crisis management. And finally, Scott, our expert in all things digital, made sure our advice for digital event organizing was all on point.

This guide also incorporates a Risk Assessment Tool first developed by Tomas Pueyo and adapted by BNC for campaigns, as well as policy guidance from Ron Stubblefield, Esq, on the new sick leave requirements passed by Congress.

Need some help figuring out the Risk Assessment Tool? We made a tutorial to help.

We recognize that campaigns across the country are adapting strategies to cope with our new reality. If you have an idea you’d like to contribute to the guide, you can submit it here. For any questions, feel free to reach out to [email protected].

Lastly, we must stress that while we aimed to make this guide as comprehensive as possible, it should never be considered a substitute for official guidelines from local and federal public health officials, who will always have the latest information and the most rigorous standards.

Please share this resource freely. And if you found it useful, we hope you will consider a small contribution to Brand New Congress.

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