Belinda Drake

Belinda Drake (front), a candidate for state Senate, took her campaign team to volunteer at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. Local candidates have had to change the way they campaign because of the COVID-19 health crisis. (Photo provided)

Terry Webster Jr. was about to take a big step in his campaign to represent the fourth district on the Pike Township board by hosting a fundraiser.

But that fundraiser, like so many events across the country, had to be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Candidates caught a little bit of a break when Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Indiana’s primary will be delayed until June 2, but it’s just one example of the way local campaigns — for prominent and less prominent offices — are having to make adjustments now that in-person events and campaigning have come to a halt.

Candidates at the biggest disadvantage are those like Webster, running for smaller offices that aren’t as well known. That’s especially true if there’s more than one candidate seeking the party nomination, meaning it’s not an option to wait it out and gear up for a run at the general election.

Aside from taking policy positions and drawing a contrast between them and others running for the same office, these candidates have to put effort into making sure voters know who they are.

Webster, a Democrat, said a lot of people don’t even know he’s running to be a township board member. He’s in the process of launching his campaign page on Facebook.

Terry Webster Jr.

Terry Webster Jr., candidate for township board in Pike Township

Digital initiatives are one of the only remaining tools for candidates to use.

He said he isn’t concerned with finances right now because it isn’t the right time to be “hammering the people” for money, as many try to navigate economic instability.

“Money always helps,” Webster said, “but I believe once things settle down that I’ll have to get out and do the groundwork of getting my face out to the people.”

Belinda Drake, a Democrat running for state Senate in District 32, has also had to cancel in-person fundraisers while her team works on ways to continue raising money online.

Like Webster, though, Drake said it’s important to be sensitive to each person’s financial situation.

“We have to remain empathetic to the hardship that many are facing right now,” said Drake, who added her campaign is willing to help other Democrats with money and resources.

The biggest adjustment she’s had to make to her campaign, Drake said, is how to reach out to voters. In lieu of in-person canvassing, Drake has set up Facebook events for volunteers to do phone banking.

With many people staying home to maintain social distancing, Drake believes, if nothing else, doing more phone banking could be good for simple interactions that are becoming rarer.

“A lot of the people in the community may actually appreciate hearing from somebody at this time,” she said.

Drake’s campaign also organized a volunteer trip to Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana for March 31, which doubled as a way to create positive exposure for her campaign through what Drake said is a demonstration of “servant leadership.”

Moving the primary from May 5 to June 2 isn’t that big of a deal for candidates like Drake who won’t face a challenger until the general election, but for others — especially those strapped for cash — the extra time is an opportunity to spread awareness about their campaigns.

Webster said time will be helpful for his campaign because, if social distancing guidelines loosen in time, he’ll have a better chance to show voters his enthusiasm.

“At the end of the day, you have to have a passion for the people,” he said. “If a person is coming out and just pushing money, money, money, to me that’s a red flag that you may not have the passion for the people.”

Pierre Pullins

Pierre Pullins, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives

For some campaigns, though, a global health crisis doesn’t change much.

Pierre Pullins, a perennial Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Indiana’s seventh district, said he hasn’t tried raising money and will just stick to posting on Facebook.

“If you got the money to run commercials, you can run commercials,” he said. “But I don’t have any money, so I just run Facebook posts.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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