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UPDATE: Republicans discuss running for office amid the COVID-19 pandemic

(WSAZ)
Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 7:43 PM EDT
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UPDATE: 6/5/2020

Just as Democrats running for local office have noticed changes to how they campaign amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so have Republicans.

In Parkersburg, four Republicans are competing in the primary race to be mayor. Mike Cottrell, Mark Meredith, Byron Meeks and the incumbent, Mayor Tom Joyce, are competing to run against the winner of the Democratic primary.

Unlike the two candidates in the Democratic race, this race has a greater variety of experience. Mike Cottrell says he has never run for office before and he's competing with an incumbent.

“It’s been challenging, but the team has been creative, keeping it outside the box, I guess you could say,” said Cottrell.

Like the Democrats, the Republicans would’ve liked to meet people face to face more often during their campaigns.

“I haven’t been able to go door to door with the pandemic, like I’d like to,” said Meredith.

“It has been extremely difficult talking to anybody. There’s been a few that we’ve met outside here and there, business people, and have had some discussions. It has been extremely limited. We’ve probably done 98 percent of ours on the telephone and via social media,” said Cottrell.

Byron Meeks struggles with not being able to meet people face to face more frequently, but he has a positive attitude about it; after all he gets to see people in his business and neighborhood each day.

“It’s tough, cause you can’t get out there and see people, you know I like to meet people face to face. I run the garage everyday, of course, I get a lot of people through there, we get about thirty cars through there a day. Of course, thirty people tell thirty more people, that works out pretty good,” said Meeks.

Most candidates are saying social media is playing a bigger role than it would normally this election. But candidates are also using older forms of communication too; phones, signs and flyers also playing a big role in this election.

“What I’ve been relying on mostly is social media. So, a lot of Facebook, a lot of the ‘Neighborhood App’ and just good, old, traditional roadside signs,” said Meredith.

Traditional signs can be seen all over Parkersburg for each candidate, but Meeks has taken it a step further and painted his Hummer truck in honor of his campaign.

Mayor Tom Joyce says he hasn’t been doing much in the way of getting re-elected. He says his focus has been responding to the pandemic and getting essential city employees the resources they need to continue working.

“I have not [done] nearly as much as I would have done, as if the situation had been different,” said Joyce. Most of my time has been spent really focusing on making sure we have appropriate personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, kind of the basic things. So, essentially I’ve really been doing my job as opposed to trying to keep my job.”

That said, Joyce has faced similar difficulties to other candidates as well.

“It’s just been very difficult,” said Joyce. “Very little fundraising, no official fundraisers, no functions, no meet and greets or town hall type events or party-like events at local businesses like I did when I ran four years ago.”

Cottrell and Meredith say the virus will likely effect voter turnout, Joyce hesitantly said it may, but he couldn’t really say for sure.

ORIGINAL STORY: 6/4/2020

The coronavirus pandemic has touched nearly everyone’s life in some way including local politicians; it’s changing the way they run for office.

While most 21st Century politicians have a Facebook page, COVID-19 has forced many local politicians to rely more on social media to get their message out.

In Parkersburg, six candidates are running for mayor this year. Nearly all of them have told WTAP they are on some level, relying more on social media while campaigning than they would have if statewide stay-at-home orders related to the coronavirus pandemic had not been issued.

“It’s been an interesting campaign,” said Candidate Sherry Dugan. “Using a lot of social media, flyers are going out [the week of this interview], phone calls. I’ve run a lot of campaigns and this is very unusual.”

Of the six mayoral candidates, two Democrats are competing in Tuesday’s primary election; Sherry Dugan and Nancy Wilcox.

Based on what she has said, Wilcox seems to be the candidate who has taken to social media the least.

“I’m not a big fan of Facebook, doing it on there or on the internet,” said Wilcox. “As you all know, everything you see and hear on the internet is not true.”

Both long time Parkersburg residents, Dugan and Wilcox each have a history in local politics. They’ve both served on City Council at one point or another.

Even with her experience, Dugan says this campaign has been a learning experience.

“[Social media] I’m not an expert at it. It’s a learning curve, I’m learning a lot,” said Dugan.

Wilcox and Dugan have both expressed concerns that voter turnout this election will be affected by the pandemic.

"Hopefully they'll either absentee vote or go to the polls. I'm hoping this does not hold them back," said Dugan.

“I’ve been keeping up with Mark Rhodes on how the precincts were going to be and everything, and they change it day to day,” said Wilcox.

At the time of this article being written, the only polling place in Parkersburg that is going to be open on election day is the Judge Black Annex of the Wood County Courthouse.

WTAP has spoken with all four Republicans running for Mayor of Parkersburg. We will have more from them on Friday.

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