Joel Newby, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, said he can feel the political winds shifting following the more than 100,000 American COVID-19 deaths and further civil unrest brought about by the recent police killings of African Americans.
“I have never been closer to winning this race against Steve Stivers — no one in the past 10 years has been as close as I am right now … I know that for a fact,” Newby said in an interview with The Athens NEWS.
Though Newby has no internal or external polling to back his claim, the Ohio University graduate cited President Donald Trump’s recently declining polling numbers in Ohio as reason why he may have a fighting chance of winning in the general election.
As of Tuesday, Trump is polling in Ohio about three points behind Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of both statewide and national polls.
And in recent years, voters have been more likely to straight-ticket vote in U.S. House of Representatives races, meaning it’s plausible they will vote for the House candidate who is of the same party as the presidential candidate they choose, according to Pew Research Center.
Statistically there is a good chance that voters in the 15th district who choose Biden for president will also pick Newby. However, it’s unclear if there will be enough support for Biden across the district — which encompasses most of Athens County and stretches up to the western Columbus suburbs — to boost Newby ahead of Stivers in November.
In 2016 when Trump won Ohio by 7 points, Stivers, who Newby calls an “ineffective partisan hack,” beat then-Democratic nominee Rick Neal in a nearly 20-point landslide.
Newby also said he heard from several independent voters on Facebook who expressed contempt for the leadership of both Trump and Stivers, the 15th district’s long-time incumbent Republican representative.
But the Newby campaign has been contending with an additional uphill battle for the past six months: trying to run a campaign remotely because of the pandemic across a region historically plagued by poor broadband Internet connection.
The candidate determined in early March that his campaign was going to be completely alerted by COVID-19, and that he and his team would need to shift their focus to crafting a digital campaigning apparatus.
Luckily for the campaign, much of that infrastructure was already in place, Newby said, and it was nimble enough to adopt what was not. The approach was inspired by his time running for OU’s Student Senate, where much of the campaigning was done remotely through mass emails, he said.
“We can do this through social media. I don’t think that we need to go out there and start putting our bodies on the line in order to get votes,” he said.
Live campaign events were slashed in favor of bi-weekly live streams on Facebook or Zoom events. And while the campaign’s fundraising numbers have been somewhat soft since the pandemic hit, Newby remains confident in his ability to connect with voters.
“I am of the right generation to run this type of campaign,” Newby, 31, said.
But residents who enjoy in-person town hall events tend to be older, and don’t necessarily want to engage with technology. So the campaign expanded is call center operations to contact potential voters one county at a time.
The pandemic, Newby said, has only reaffirmed his confidence in the set of policy proposals his campaign was founded on. Those policies include eventually overhauling the county’s health care system and vastly expanding broadband in the region.
The candidate has also reworked his criminal justice reform proposal in response to the recent killings of African Americans like George Floyd by law enforcement.
Newby believes the way to revamp Athens County’s economy, which was hurting long before the pandemic began, is to expand broadband so companies are able to participate in the marketplace remotely.
“We need to build a 21st century internet infrastructure so we can build a 21st century economy,” he said.
Though it’s unclear what the next several months leading up to Election Day will bring both Newby’s campaign and the country at large, the candidate plans to slightly shift his messaging in July to renew calls for national unity.
“I’m not in the job of predicting what the political climate is going to look like … If the past six months has taught me anything, it’s keep going with my own style but get ready for the next thing,” Newby said.