‘A wrench in campaigning’: Coronavirus forces legislative hopefuls to find new ways to reach voters

MADISON, Wis. — People hoping to have a seat in the state Legislature have until Monday to get in their nomination papers, but the process to get everything necessary to qualify for candidacy has been difficult during the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID has really thrown a wrench in campaigning,” said Rep. Melissa Sargent, who is running for an open state Senate seat.

Though Sargent has campaigned before, the playbook this year is different.

“Being able to go to a library or a coffee shop or a tavern and invite people to come and have a conversation with a couple of people around the table, and that’s not safe right now,” she said. “Frankly, we have to reinvent what campaigning looks like.”

Andrew McKinney, the president of the Monona Grove School Board, is running for the same seat. He, like others in this race and others, had to move to digital campaigning to talk with voters instead. For signatures, he held drive-through signature events.

“Course you use hand sanitizers and wipes and everything, and it turned out to be successful,” McKinney said.

All three of the candidates for this Senate seat said they have gotten the required number of signatures, but they tell me the circumstances didn’t make it easy.

“I just hit my goal this week of collecting nomination signatures,” said Scott Barker, a lieutenant with the Sun Prairie Fire Department. “I wanted to be done with that process long ago.”

Barker said he started with his family and built connections from there. That and his website were his keys to success in this round.

For him and others who will have to continue campaigning with the virus looming, the challenges are far from over.

“We want to be respectful of everyone’s comfort level with this pandemic,” Barker said. “That is huge for me.”

The primary for this race is scheduled for Aug. 11.