Flu prevention concept. Medical face mask on grey background top view copy space

In any other election year, Eva Putzova would be driving across Arizona’s sprawling 1st District to get to in-person campaign events in her challenge to Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona.

But this is not any other election year.

Faced with the stay-home orders and social distancing brought on by the coronavirus, Putzova and her campaign team have put all in-person activities on hold and are operating remotely for the most part.

Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican representing District 6, which includes parts of Glendale and Peoria, said he has “more volunteers right now than we’ve ever had any time in our political lives, because people are home.” Stuck at home like everyone else, he said he spends his days juggling campaigning and serving constituents while taking care of his 4-year-old daughter.

“You walk around with a headset on and a backup battery for your cell phone and you just take it as it comes in the door because you also have that responsibility,” Schweikert said. “When the day comes to an end, you’re getting on the phone to make sure that people who want yard signs are called back.”

Anita Malik, one of the Democrats hoping to unseat Schweikert, said her campaign volunteers are checking on neighbors, offering to help with groceries and connecting people with places where they can donate.

Malik said her campaign is “not about competition; this is about serving.” That means changing what “we would normally do, which is talk about David Schweikert,” and instead setting up a digital cafe, as well as Slack communities that are “not about politics” but provide people with resources and connections.

“While we all are dealing with a lot of stress and worry about our loved ones because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t put democracy on pause,” Putzova, a former Flagstaff City Council member, said in an emailed statement.

“Organizing in geographically one of the largest districts in the country means that as a team we have already been operating mostly remotely,” said Putzova, a Democrat.

Candidates across Arizona and the nation have suspended rallies and in-person canvassing and have their campaign staffers work from home because of the coronavirus. In addition to the challenge reaching voters, COVID-19 brings competition for financial donations and media attention.

“Nobody was planning on this happening when they put together their campaign,” said Chad Campbell, senior vice president for Strategies 360. “If you were planning on doing a lot of time door-to-door, you probably have to shift … money and time to phones and to texting and to digital.”

But candidates are putting the best face on it, reaching out digitally and in many cases using their campaigns as a platform to help people dealing with COVID-19.

Putzova said she’s using the time that would be spent on group functions to connect with voters individually. O’Halleran’s campaign manager said that while the campaign has canceled in-person events, it is “utilizing email outreach and social media platforms for public health updates.”

Experts say that while the change poses difficulties for all campaigns, it’s particularly tough for challengers. Campbell said incumbents have an advantage because they have more resources and have been fundraising for a longer period of time.

“They can reach out to a network of supporters who have voted for them in the past, who have given them money in the past and who have signed their petitions in the past,” he said.

Amy Dacey, executive director at the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics at American University, said COVID-19 presents another challenge to campaign—lack of media attention.

“Any kind of earned media is very hard to break into because a lot of these media outlets are 24/7 coronavirus … a lot of these places used to be like political channels that would talk about campaigns all day long,” Dacey said.

Some campaigns, like the presidential race and Arizona’s high-profile Senate race, will likely be able to break through the coronavirus noise. But local candidates will have an uphill climb for attention, said Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy at HighGround.

“That nice weather and spring training and all of that go-door-to-door was basically taken from them,” Bentz said. “So I suspect we’re going to see at a minimum level you’re going to see campaigns have difficulty finding enough signatures (to get on the ballot).”

Bentz also said candidates should expect to operate with smaller budgets, as donations flow to other virus-related efforts.

“There’s very noble causes to donate to right now and relief efforts, so there’s going to be now, and moving forward, less money available to donate to campaigns,” he said.

Trump Victory spokesperson Samantha Zager said the campaign was able to move everything to digital within 24 hours by shifting to Zoom and Google Hangouts and implementing 340 training sessions per week for volunteers. She said the campaign has an app called “Trump Talk” that lets volunteers make calls from their homes, provides them with a trainer video on how to make the calls, and gives the survey script.

David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said the party is “partnering with our state parties and implementing innovative tactics that allow us to continue communicating with voters during this time.”