Battleground 2020Elections 2020Candidates for Austin-Area State House Seat Shift Focus to Remote Voter Outreach Amid Coronavirus

Since coronavirus changed both the political landscape and attainable campaign strategies, candidates for House District 47 have adjusted their gameplan.
April 28, 2020
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After a nail-biting finish, Justin Berry came in second place in the House District 47 Republican primary, securing his chance to take on frontrunner Jennifer Fleck in the May runoff.

However, due to the coronavirus, the runoff was postponed to July 14. Campaigns across Texas have had to adjust not only to a later election date but to a world in which door to door campaigning is either unsafe, frowned upon, or prohibited outright.

For the candidates in HD 47 vying for the chance to face incumbent Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) in November, this has forced them to call an audible.

Fleck, who finished comfortably in first on primary night with 32 percent of the vote, knocked thousands of doors herself during the campaign. Fleck told The Texan she plans on ramping up operations again in mid-May.

In the meantime, with door-knocking no longer being an option, she has focused on phone calls and social media.

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The candidate has also been attending the “Open Texas” protests, as Fleck shares the group’s sentiment about reopening the Texas economy. Fleck has been critical of Governor Greg Abbott’s approach in maintaining business closures but is even more critical of the stricter measures local governments — such as the City of Austin and Travis County — have implemented.

“I’m for Texas families getting back to work. In general, Texans do not want to just take a handout — they want to work for it,” she stated.

Fleck said that at the rallies she has been able to interact with HD 47 voters despite most face-to-face mediums being untenable. These conversations with voters, Fleck said, have spawned further interactions over social media and in other places.

At these rallies, she has been able to meet her voters from the primary election that she had not been able to speak with before.

Her opponent, Austin police officer Justin Berry, is balancing a campaign and the increased demands on APD resulting from coronavirus.

For Berry, communication with voters must be done remotely whether it is over the phone, online, or via text messages.

Text messaging has become a popular way to engage with voters for campaigns, so much so that presidential campaigns this year have leaned on the method heavily.

Berry’s campaign spokesman, Craig Murphy, told The Texan that because of the coronavirus’ effects, voters have actually been far easier to reach.

“We’re not being slowed down in reaching out to voters,” he added. Due to voters being home almost all the time, Berry’s campaign has observed a higher response rate than even door knocking — which traditionally has the best response rate but is highly time-consuming.

Since coronavirus is often the sole topic of discussion for most Texans, Murphy said reaching voters on their terms has been easier — rather than having to navigate numerous different issues and tailoring them to specific voters.

“I have a better sense of what’s happening in this district than I ever could have normally,” Murphy emphasized.

Moving forward, Berry’s campaign says it will remain flexible.

For both candidates, with mail-in voting set to potentially play a more important role than normal, direct mail campaigns may be even more vital to the July runoff’s outcome. But to pay for that, money must be raised. 

Both Berry and Fleck said it has been much more difficult to raise money but are each optimistic they will be able to get what they need.

On what makes her the best choice in the race, Fleck touted her core issues which, she says, have wide appeal. Her platform centers on education and family-related issues, and she has been especially outspoken against the sex-ed curriculum in schools.

Now she’s taking a firm stance on the continued coronavirus closures, cementing a theme in her campaign.

“Unlike many politicians, voters appreciate that I’m willing to take a position and a stance on issues, and I look forward to being a people’s representative at the capitol,” Fleck concluded.

Murphy stressed, “In this election, the experience Justin Berry has as a first responder is such a contrast to his opponent and prospective opponent that it makes him a really good fit.”

Berry not only has been makeshift campaigning during this time, but he’s also working overtime in his day job as APD struggles to fill open positions.

“I am focused on ensuring the people of Texas HD 47 are safe and as informed as they can be during this time,” Berry told The Texan.

Rep. Vikki Goodwin’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.