Coronavirus concerns start to impact primary election season

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In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in Indiana, the primary election season may look different than normal as candidates cancel in-person events and organizers of public forums and debates opt for no audiences.

As of Thursday morning, Indiana has 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus, with two cases in Marion County. By Thursday afternoon, Gov. Eric Holcomb moved to limit social gatherings to 250 people or less and took action to make it easier for schools to close.

Holcomb, who is seeking re-election this year, is also taking precautionary steps with his campaign and is in the process of postponing all events for the rest of the month. The campaign said in a statement that it will reassess the situation after that.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers said he has not canceled campaign events or limited his public exposure, but he’s closely monitoring the situation.

“Obviously, the situation is fluid,” Myers said.

The Indiana Democratic Party issued a statement on Thursday saying it’s still planning to have the state convention on June 13 as expected, but “we are also developing contingencies in case an alternative event is necessary.”

The party also said it is in “near constant contact” with the Indiana Election Division about the impact this could have on the May 5 primary.

Other than to comment on Holcomb’s campaign cancellations, the Indiana Republican Party did not comment on any other impacts the coronavirus is having on campaign season.

But Indiana Town Halls, an organization that has planned candidate forums for the Republican and Democratic candidates in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District, has changed its location for the events and is proceeding without a live audience.

The GOP 5th District candidate forum is scheduled for Monday and initially was set to take place at the 350-seat Ivy Tech Community College Recreation Annex Auditorium in Noblesville. But the group told IBJ on Thursday that now, the candidates will be filmed at WFYI’s studio in Indianapolis without an audience. Media will be allowed.

The public will still be able to submit questions electronically, and the forum will be streamed online.

Another 5th District candidate forum set to be hosted by the Westfield GOP Club on March 25 at the Westfield High School auditorium is still moving ahead as planned, according to the group’s president Scott Willis.

Willis told IBJ he hadn’t heard any concerns from candidates, but two things could impact whether the event happens—whether Westfield schools remain open and whether there are documented cases of COVID-19 in Hamilton County. As of Thursday, there were not any cases in Hamilton County.

Some candidates in the 5th District are continuing to campaign as normal, but they say they are monitoring the situation closely and could be willing to shift gears, if necessary.

“We’ll see how that plays out,” Republican candidate Carl Brizzi said. “This is going to be weird for this race.”

Brizzi, a former Marion County prosecutor, said he hasn’t had to postpone any events or cancel any appearances, but “we’re just trying to take it day to day.”

Democratic 5th District candidate Christina Hale posted on Twitter that her campaign is monitoring the spread of the virus and will adjust plans as necessary. Her campaign spokeswoman told IBJ on Thursday afternoon that it is considering canceling some volunteer opportunities this weekend.

Republican candidate Micah Beckwith said he’s trying to get in front of as many voters as possible, even if that’s through virtual events.

“If that means we have to change events or tweak things, then we will,” Beckwith said.

He had not canceled any events as of Thursday afternoon.

Beckwith and Brizzi said they’re deferring to the organizers of events not hosted by their campaigns, like county party dinners or party club gatherings, to decide whether or not to proceed as normal.

“If those things do get canceled, then there’s going to be a lot more interaction with social media,” Brizzi said. “It’s going to be an odd 55 more days.”

Republican State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, who is also running in the 5th District, has already turned to virtual events to connect with voters. She announced a virtual town hall series where voters will be able to ask questions and hear responses from Mitchell. The first one is scheduled for Wednesday.

“Our goal is to engage voters and give them the opportunity to ask questions, hear my platform, and learn why I am the best candidate to represent them in Congress,” Mitchell said in a statement. “I encourage everyone to share our town hall information with friends and family, to take part in the primary process, and most importantly, stay safe.”

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