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Campaigning during a pandemic with the Trump team

By Trevor Bexon
Published: Last Updated on

Let the countdown begin. Sunday, July 26, officially marked 100 days until Election Day.

In a normal election year, 100 days out would signify the rising velocity of campaign volunteers knocking on doors, making phone calls, registering voters, and, here in Washoe County, visits from presidential candidates would be expected. 

In 2020, campaigning, like everything else, has changed. 

This Is Reno visited the Trump campaign in Washoe County to get a feel for how they are expecting to reach voters before Election Day. 

Keith Schipper is the Trump Victory Spokesperson and works in Washoe County along with other areas of the Western states. 

Schipper told This Is Reno the Reno office opened last fall and was the very first Trump Victory HQ office, other than Washington, D.C., to open in the entire country.

“Across the state, we have over 50 staffers, with many in Reno,” he said. “We have already made 1.5 million voter contacts in Nevada.”

Inside the Washoe County Trump Victory Headquarters. Image: Trevor Bexon
Inside the Washoe County Trump Victory Headquarters. Image: Trevor Bexon

A looming question is how to campaign effectively and safely during a pandemic. 

“One of the benefits of having an infrastructure that’s been in place since 2016 is it allows us to seamlessly make changes when faced with adversity, such as what this pandemic has brought to the world,” Schipper said. “On March 13 [President Trump declares a national emergency], obviously, everything changed. We had to face the fact that we would be campaigning to elect the president in the midst of a pandemic. In 24 hours we changed our formidable ground and in-person game into a completely digital and virtual operation, using Zoom and using our app to contact voters.”

As the state reopened so did campaign field offices but in a different manner, such as everything else.

“We went about that for a couple of months,” Schipper said. “It was sometime in June we began the transition to more of a balance of some in-person and some still digitally. It’s what the volunteer is comfortable with. If they want to go hit doors, then great. We have them, of course, follow the guidelines–wear a mask, stay six feet apart–but if they aren’t comfortable then they can make those calls from their house. In our office, you have to wear a mask if you come in to do training, and you have to be spaced six feet apart. It’s different. It’s [like] nothing I’ve been a part of. This is a very unique time but we’ve handled the adversity very well.”

This Is Reno asked if the campaign felt any resistance when knocking on doors during this new normal. Schipper responded, “No, I think people are more receptive to it. They understand. We are 100 days out from the election, and this is a huge election. It’s going to have ramifications for generations. This is still an election year. We also provide the most up-to-date information on what the guidelines are. If they need anything we help them out as well.”

A screenshot of the Trump campaign app.
A screenshot of the Trump campaign app.

There’s an app for that

If 2008 is considered one of the first presidential elections to have occurred with widespread social media influence, then that would make 2020 the fourth presidential campaign to experience its effects.

During a pandemic, this technology is now more helpful than ever. Both the Biden and Trump campaigns have apps that allow volunteers to organize from the safety of home. These apps have voter contact lists embedded within to ensure volunteers can connect with the correct potential voters. 

“We have phone lists in the Trump app,” Schipper said. “The RNC has invested $350 million in data. We know exactly who our voters are, who we need to talk to, and what they want to talk about.

“We have this sophisticated program that is now in the pocket of every volunteer. If they have time and are at home, which obviously more people are spending at home to keep safe, they can go into that app and make some calls. It’s a huge advantage to us as the Democrats are trying to catch up and will be unable to make the investments we’ve made in things like our data,” Schipper said.

What are voters talking about right now? 

With the pandemic consuming so much attention of Americans during an election year what is the Trump campaign hearing from voters when making these phone calls? 

“The big issue we are seeing now, especially on the West Coast is how radicalized the ‘defund the police’ movement has become,” Schipper said. “We saw it in Reno. When I saw what happened to Don [Dike-Anukam], I reached out to him and still am checking on him about the violence he endured.  It’s getting even worse in places like Portland and Seattle, and they [voters] are very concerned that they see Democrats and Joe Biden adopting this crazy radical platform. Then they see that President Trump has a law and order agenda and is committed and prioritized in keeping our communities safe. That’s been a huge issue as of late.

“And then, of course, you’ve got the economy as well. President Trump has built the greatest economy this world has ever seen, Nevada has ever seen. And he’s going to do it again, you already see it with the jobs that are being created as we round out of this pandemic and start getting our wits back about us.”

Inside the Washoe County Trump Victory Headquarters. Image: Trevor Bexon
Inside the Washoe County Trump Victory Headquarters. Image: Trevor Bexon

The importance of Washoe County

Nevada has long been considered a bellwether state for the country, meaning whichever presidential candidate wins Nevada typically wins the presidency. 

Nevada has correctly voted for the presidential winner in 25 out of 27 elections since 1912. This gives Nevada a 92% accuracy rating. 2016 and 1976 were the only two years Nevada missed this standard since 1912. 

Washoe County can also be described as the bellwether county in a bellwether state with its 100% accuracy rating of voting for the Nevada winner since 2000. 

In the last election, Hillary Clinton won the county by 2,621 votes. 

Looking at 2020 to decipher any trends that are developing would have to be done by investigating voter registration numbers. The voter registration statistics last updated on July 23, 2020, from the Washoe County Registrar of Voters demonstrates the unique position Washoe County is in. 

While the numbers for Non-Partisan (57,955) and Other (17,727) categories should be taken into account, the split between R’s and D’s is still impressive. 

Democrats have 97,177 active voters registered compared to 97,127 active voting registered republicans. 

That is a difference of just 50 voters.

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