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Campaigning for local office has been very different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While local candidates usually go door to door, visit church picnics and host campaign dinner events, they haven't been doing much or any of that this time around.

"There was no way to meet people all at once," said Republican Brian Stumpe, who is running for the new second Cole County associate circuit judge position. "It's made us do a lot more one-on-one engagements while keeping a social distance."

Candidates still went door to door, but instead of knocking and waiting for an answer, they left materials on residents' doorsteps.

"Most people don't want to be bothered, and we understood that," said Democrat Scott Evans, who is also running for the Cole County associate circuit judge position. "That's why it was very important that on the materials we left, we had the ways to contact me by phone, by email or social media."

During his last campaign for office, incumbent state Rep. Dave Griffith, a Republican running for re-election to the Missouri House of Representatives District 60 seat, said he knocked on more than 9,700 doors of residences within the district.

"Despite COVID, when we did go to many residences, they were happy to actually see somebody," Griffith said. "They would come out, and we'd visit from a distance."

Democrat Joshua Dunne, who is running against Griffith in the House District 60 race, said despite attempts to reach voters through mail, email and social media, he still has concerns some people might not have been able to find out why he is running and what his stances on issues are.

"You have a lot more to do when you go against an incumbent," Dunne said. "It's harder because they already have the name recognition."

Stumpe said one good thing about this year's campaign was it forced him to plan communication with voters.

"When you leave something behind at a home, you can't always be sure that you will be able to engage with those people," Stumpe said. "We did 4,000 phone calls with people, and I know people don't like to get bothered with political ads, so we tried to limit that."

Offering material with information on how to reach him helped Evans hear from voters.

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"Being able to hear how they felt on a variety of topics through social media contact was key to making myself available," Evans said. "The easy thing to have done was not do anything, but we didn't want to mail it in."

One thing Griffith has learned while campaigning is that many people had already voted by mail or absentee.

"Many were the same people I'd talked to in the last campaign, and even though they had voted, they still were glad to be able to meet and discuss issues," Griffith said.

Dunne said missing out on one-on-one time with voters meant he might not be able to give voters all the information they wanted on a topic of interest.

"The more information I can give a voter, the better," Dunne said. "That's where the personal communication comes into play. You can't talk with them about specific matters when all you're able to do is post a video on YouTube."

Despite the challenges, the candidates believe they can incorporate what they've learned during this campaign the next time they run for office.

"It's a lot easier to send out messages on social media or calling someone, but that's not the way I like to do it," Stumpe said. "In a sense, it was harder to get the message out this time, but I think I've done the best I can with what I had to work with."

Regardless of obstacles he's faced while campaigning, Evans said he's been able to adjust.

"We've ordered more materials and have hit 8,000 doors in the county," Evans said. "I think all the candidates learned to be more flexible during this campaign. We can't make excuses about not being able to meet voters. Win or lose, there will be another campaign for Scott Evans."

Griffith said he will probably communicate more through email since many of constituents already reach out to him that way.

"People still want to be able to reach out and talk with their representatives in some form or fashion," Griffith said. "My availability to my constituents is upper-most in my mind. You have to learn to adapt to serve, and I tell people that if you elect me I want to be able to answer your questions and listen to your concerns."

Dunne said he found a silver lining in this campaign that he can use in the future.

"We did a lot of communication with events on Zoom and other platforms, and we found out how much of a global community we are," Dunne said. "We potentially wouldn't have found these had it not been for the pandemic. Going forward, once we get past COVID, I think candidates will continue to use these platforms and try to incorporate them more into their campaigning as well as using the traditional events."

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