David Richter’s campaign is steering clear of voters’ front doors as the former Hill International CEO’s primary against former Burlington County Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs winds to a close.
“COVID has changed a lot of what we anticipated and planned on doing, everything from the entire campaign being more digitally-focused to we chose to cancel our plans for door-to-door campaigning during the primary just out of respect to the voters, not wanting to intrude on people’s space and be on their doorstep ringing their doorbell,” Richter campaign manager Tom Bonfonti said. “We chose to postpone it entirely during the primary.”
Though door-to-door campaigning was essentially outlawed for months before New Jersey began to reopen businesses shuttered by the virus, Gov. Phil Murphy and other officials warily greenlit door-knocking as the number of new COVID-19 cases in the state dropped.
Gibbs’ campaign has turned back to the campaign staple, though at a level much reduced compared to election cycles that took place outside of a pandemic.
“We have done some,” Gibbs campaign manager Angelo Lamberto said. “And we’ll continue to do that as well as other grassroot efforts throughout the rest of the campaign.”
Both campaigns saw their fundraising drop sharply between March 1 and June 17. During that period, Gibbs raised $64,902, while Richter brought in just $27,198. Despite that, Richter went in into the latter half of June with a relatively-sizeable cash advantage, his reserve of $206,624 trumping the $82,308 in Gibbs’ war chest.
Despite that, both candidates are staying on the air, with Gibbs continuing a 30-second spot that attempts to deflect attacks over the former freeholder’s criminal record while painting Richter as a “Pro Biden, Pro China (elitist).”
“We’re still running our direct mail. We’re still running our TV commercials. We still have our digital ads,” Bonfonti said.
Lamberto said he did not believe his campaign would send out any additional mailers between now and election day.
Richter’s campaign has drastically outspent Gibbs’ on Facebook and Instagram ads since the start of the campaign, outspending the former freeholder $30,685 to $3,750 through June 28, though the disparity is less apparent in recent buys.
Between June 22 and June 28, Richter, who has the Ocean County Republican line, spent $1,070 on ads running on Facebook-owned platforms, while Gibbs, who has the support of the Burlington County Republican Organization, spent $801.
Gibbs’ two active Facebook spots bend in different directions.
The older of the two pushes an endorsement the candidate received from New Jersey Right to Life, the leading anti-abortion rights group in the state, while pushing her opposition to taxpayer-funded family planning services.
Both candidates said they supported parental consent laws and opposed late-term and partial-birth abortions during a debate in June, though Richter and Gibbs each said they did not oppose early trimester abortions.
Gibbs’ second active ad is an attempt to signal boost the still-running television spot.
There’s less diversity in Richter’s online spots. The candidate is currently running three separate ads on Facebook and Instagram touting the National Rifle Association’s endorsement, and Bonfonti said the campaign likely won’t launch persuasion ads on any other issues ahead of the primary.
“It’s important to a lot of voters. It’s an important issue to David, especially. He supports the Second Amendment, so we want people to see that. We want people to be aware of that,” he said. “The other ads are going to be focused on returning ballots, driving turnout.”
Both teams are attending some in-person events, though those schedules were noticeably lighter than ones for campaigns conducted outside of a global public health crisis.
The pandemic-motivated move to a nearly-all vote-by-mail primary has also complicated things somewhat, mainly by pushing the campaigns to spend more resources on making sure voters drop their ballot in a mailbox.
“Every minute of my day that I am not responding to something or preparing something is spent with one of our elected officials chasing a ballot,” Bonfonti said. “It is the primary focus at this point.”
Despite misgivings from some Republican legislators in the state and derision from President Donald Trump, Bonfonti said he was expecting turnout in the district to rise above what was seen in 2016, partly because of the move to mail-in voting.
He said he expected the effect to be pronounced enough to overwhelm any voter apathy caused by the blistering, and often personal, campaign for the third congressional district’s Republican nod.
For months, Richter and Gibbs savaged one another, with the former CEO attacking Gibbs over an old shoplifting charge and other similarly-minor infractions and the former freeholder attempting to undermine Richter’s business experience, which the candidate has made a core tenant of his campaign.
Despite the tenor of the race and its less-than-usual circumstances, both feel good about their chances to win the nod.
“We’re keeping up a strong grassroots effort with our volunteers with Kate, and I think we’re excited to see Tuesday and moving forward,” Lamberto said,