SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — The effects of the coronavirus outbreak are being felt on the campaign trail.
Nationally, Democratic rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both cancelled rallies they’d scheduled for Tuesday night after public health authorities warned against large gatherings. Closer to home, the Massachusetts Democratic Party announced it was cancelling all upcoming city and town caucuses that were supposed to elect delegates to the May nominating convention.
And Wednesday, one of the nine Democrats running to succeed Joe Kennedy III in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District — Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman — announced she is organizing a series of virtual town halls to reach out to voters amid the epidemic. Her campaign manager said nearly all in-person events have been postponed.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency over COVID-19 on Tuesday.
“As a mom to young kids, I know how important it is to keep our families safe and healthy,” Grossman said in a statement. “Our campaign is committed to finding innovative ways to continue connecting with voters support without compromising the community’s safety.”
Grossman is the first 4th District candidate to announce campaign changes in light of coronavirus. She said she will host three virtual town halls on her campaign Facebook page in the coming weeks: a public health town hall on March 19, a districtwide town hall on April 6, and a town hall for the South Coast and Gateway Cities on April 23.
Grossman isn’t alone.
Another Democratic candidate, former Brookline Select Board member Jesse Mermell, said Wednesday she is “cancelling, postponing, or making other adjustments to any event where we anticipate 50 or more attendees.” Virtual events with phone call-in options are being examined.
“Calm preparedness and a commitment to keeping ourselves and our communities safe are the orders of the day,” Mermell wrote in a Medium post. “But how to do that when you’re running for Congress and your job is to be in crowded public spaces, interacting with people – often with a handshake or a hug? You put public health first, and the campaign second.”
She added: “Now go wash your hands.”
A third candidate, Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss, said his campaign is “taking every precaution recommended by the CDC and following the lead of Boston’s major institutions in terms of responsible practice.”
“Staff are allowed to work from home if that’s where they feel comfortable, we’re postponing events with 15 or more people, and we’re offering virtual house parties,” he said.
Another candidate, former Assistant Attorney General Dave Cavell, sent an email to supporters Tuesday acknowledging the uncertainty the outbreak has created. “I do not yet know how or in what ways the public health crisis will impact what we do and where we go,” Cavell said.
A spokesperson for Cavell said his campaign plans to increase its online and social media efforts and “will likely be switching to virtual events as needed.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook