Lori Feagan’s campaign buttons came in three weeks ago. The Democrat running for the state legislative seat in Washington’s Fourth District was looking forward to handing them out at the full slate of events she had scheduled—fundraisers, conventions, door-knocking. By the next week, she had canceled all that. Washington was the first state in the country to report a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus. And despite the warnings from overseas—China, Italy—Washington is where the deadly severity of the virus first came into view for millions of Americans. As other candidates began strategizing on how to move campaign events online, Feagan, a nurse practitioner who specializes in internal medicine, threw herself back into the work of treating patients.
“We had to refocus,” Feagan told me when I called her on Monday evening. She had just returned home from another 10-hour day of telehealth medicine in the Spokane Valley—triaging patients over the phone for upper-respiratory symptoms in hopes of keeping them from overwhelming clinics. “I need to take care of the people in my district, and the people in my community,” she said. “This week, I’m a nurse practitioner.”
Retail politics in America are on hold. And although they don’t make much of a difference in presidential races, John Sides, a political-science professor at Vanderbilt University, told me, in-person events are the lifeblood for candidates running down-ballot for positions in institutions such as the U.S. House of Representatives, state Senates, city councils, and local school boards.