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Pandemic Propels Political Push

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Tom Flanigan
Last year's local Democratic Party picnic at Tallahassee's Lake Ella American Legion.

Rallies, traditional in-person fundraisers and other up-close contacts have become political casualties of the new COVID-19 reality. Virtual connection has taken their place.

Florida's primary election is just weeks away. But the pandemic has put the brakes on nearly all in-person political activity. That's forced candidates and political parties to change the ways they're connecting with voters.
For Leon County's Democrats, a long-standing political tradition is the big gathering that in most recent years has taken place at Tallahassee's Lake Ella American Legion.

"This is our 20th annual event - we've always said 'picnic' - and this year we won't have any food lines with our elected officials passing out the barbecue. It's all going to be on Facebook Live."

That's long-time local Democratic party activist Dave Jacobson. Even though the happening has migrated to the web because of COVID, he said this Saturday's (July 25) happening from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. will continue the glorious in-person tradition of political candidate speechifying.

"(There will be) 19 three-minute speeches beginning with Congressman Al Lawson. And each candidate came to our site and we videotaped them. And some, I was amazed, did it in one take!"

There will also be an online keynote speaker, who'll have a prominent link to Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden.The day before the event, Jacobson revealed that speaker to be Valerie Biden Owens, the sister of the presumed Democratic presidential nominee. There would even be a new pro-Biden song penned by the Tallahassee musical duo Hot Tamale.

"Because we can't serve any food, we're inviting everyone to enjoy some Joe Biden ice cream and we've had a Joe Biden ice cream social," Jacobson added.

Meanwhile, over on the Republican side of the street, Leon County G.O.P. Chair Evan Power has also been coping with a greatly shifted landscape when it comes to political campaigning.

"A couple of years ago, we would have said that digital is probably four or six years away from being at the peak. But right now we're peaking early on digital. So we're interacting with people on digital platforms. But it's also led us to go a little bit old school. We're doing mail and phones and things that people used to do a long time ago."

And though he's not planning a picnic as such, Power said his party's formerly in-person gatherings have also migrated to the virtual domain.

"Yesterday we had our first virtual fundraiser with the president of the United States. It was done via Zoom because he couldn't go to a room and press the flesh with people, but he did it via Zoom and talked to people directly and that was successful."

Certainly, the policy and personality divides between the two parties have seldom been wider. Although one thing both Jacobson and Power agree
that the political world has changed. Perhaps permanently.

"We're breaking some barriers right now that probably wouldn't have been broken unless we were in this situation. And I think it will have long-lasting implications on our campaigns because I think campaigns are going to change moving forward just based on the lessons we've learned from interacting with people in this trying time," Power predicted.