For generations, candidates have spent a lot of time shaking hands at campaign events, trying to make sure voters remember them fondly come Election Day.

But all of a sudden, with the arrival of the coronavirus, things have changed radically.

“We’re probably going to transition to do fist bumps and elbow bumps,” said Saco lawyer Bre Kidman, one of four contenders for the Democratic Party’s backing in a June 9 primary for the right to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

“I don’t want to be the campaign that spreads this all over Maine,” Kidman said Thursday.

The impact of COVID-19 goes well beyond a shift in personal interactions. It’s crimping efforts to gather signatures, causing organizers to pull the plug on a growing number of political events and forcing candidates to consider alternative ways of reaching voters.

Danielle VanHelsing, an independent from Sangerville, said that with so many people in virtual lockdown to avoid exposure she is “already struggling to get signatures” for her required petitions because “no one wants to even be near anyone else.”


“It’s been insanity,” VanHelsing said, fearing it may be impossible for her to reach enough people to get her petitions done.

Another independent eyeing the race, Tiffany Bond of Portland, said she had plans on how to get the 4,000 signatures she needs to get on the ballot “but I did not have pandemic on my planning sheet.”

Bond said she’s now asking supporters to help by collecting a dozen or so signatures apiece so her campaign can “avoid putting folks at risk” trying to collect large numbers.

Campaign officials said Eric Brakey of Auburn, a candidate in the June Republican congressional primary, has had volunteers knock on more than 30,000 doors in the district so far.

But given the viral threat, Brakey’s campaign plans to place “more emphasis on phone calls and digital efforts to reach voters” in the remaining 90 days of the race.

Dale Crafts of Lisbon, another of the three contenders in the Republican congressional primary in Maine’s 2nd District, said the spread of the virus “certainly impacts our ability to meet voters face to face.”


Crafts said, though, that precautions like cancellation of a sportsmen’s show in Orono this weekend, are “necessary precautions to protect the Maine people.”

“Health and safety always come way before politics,” he said, urging everyone “to pray for our neighbors and focus on limiting the spread of the virus by remaining vigilant with personal hygiene practices.”

Democrat Sara Gideon, the state House speaker from Freeport who is running for U.S. Senate, said her campaign will follow the CDC’s guidance “and postpone our scheduled events for the foreseeable future.” It plans to resume them once it is safe.

Another Democratic Senate hopeful, Ross LaJeunesse of Biddeford, said his campaign will also “follow CDC guidance to slow the spread of this virus.” He urged Mainers to check out his social media and website to learn about his policy proposals.

Kidman said that for scrappy, underfunded campaigns, grass-roots events are a huge part of what’s necessary to catch the attention of the public. They give candidates a chance to speak and meet people.

So it hurts when one after another are canceled rather than risk exposing anyone to the coronavirus, Kidman said. Three or four were erased from Kidman’s schedule in the past day alone.


In response, Kidman said, “we’re going to get creative,” pushing broadcasters to put more information on the air and using online resources to expand the campaign’s reach.

As the virus spread, voters approached in lots of ways, some seeking to shake hands, others to bump fists or elbows.

“I let them decide,” Kidman said, and used hand sanitizer frequently.

Bond said she just waved.

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