Lauren Kelley has a large platter of Lysol and hand sanitizer beside the front door of her home in the Autumn Ridge neighborhood. Disinfecting her husband when he gets home from work is just one of the precautions she’s been taking to keep her family safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She’s not alone, either.
With restaurants and bars limiting their services to take-out and delivery under the penalty of law and many people concerned about contracting the highly-infectious disease, most people in coastal Alabama are following the advice of health experts by staying in their homes and practicing social distancing.
Alabama nearly doubled its number of confirmed COVID-19 cases over the weekend as states around it went into full lockdown — ordering the majority of citizens to shelter in place at home.
With all that going on around the country, Kelley said she was surprised over the weekend when a man she didn’t recognize came knocking on her door. She didn’t answer, but after the man walked away, she noticed he’d left an advertisement that read: “Bill Hightower: Not a typical politician.”
Kelley is one of several residents in some West Mobile neighborhoods that have seen supporters of U.S. congressional candidate Bill Hightower knocking on doors and hand-delivering campaign literature despite pleas from health officials to stay at home and limit in-person interactions.
“I’m pretty shocked there is somebody going door-to-door right now in the midst of what’s happening with this virus and how everyone is trying to stay at home and protect their families,” Kelley wrote in a Facebook post. “My elderly neighbor has Parkinson’s and he was headed there after my house.”
Over the weekend, Kelley said another person campaigned, distributing ads for Hightower by hand.
Speaking to Lagniappe, she said it was concerning given all that has been reported about the length of time coronavirus can survive on surfaces, which according to the World Health Organization can be up to a few hours or several days depending on environmental factors and the material.
April Doutt said she and her husband Scott had a similar experience the same day. They were working from home when they noticed someone in the neighborhood going door to door.
“My husband asked the young man what he was doing and he said it was political, but when Scott asked who he was with he said ‘I’d rather not say,’” April said. “[Scott] told him he didn’t need to be doing that at this time and the kid just just kind of didn’t seem to care.”
Kelley and Doutt both said the individuals they encountered handing out ads for Hightower weren’t wearing gloves or anything to mitigate the potential for spreading infection.
At least three other people in the same area have contacted Lagniappe with similar stories since Friday, some sending pictures of cars with out-of-state license plates from Texas and Arkansas. Various others have taken to the Hightower’s campaign Facebook page to complain about the unsolicited visits.
Matt Beynon, a spokesperson with the Hightower campaign, said no one on Hightower’s team authorized or was aware of the door-to-door outreach or the ads being distributed — ads that were paid for by the conservative-focused Club for Growth Action Super PAC based in Washington, D.C.
He noted that, under federal election laws, candidates aren’t supposed to communicate or coordinate with PACs supporting them in any way. He said Hightower has no control over where they send people or when.
“I can’t speak for any of those outside groups involved in this race, whether they’re supporting Bill or Commissioner (Jerry) Carl. I can only speak for our campaign, and we ceased all person-to-person and door-to-door activity a week ago,” Beynon said. “Our office closed and person to person campaign activities are postponed until we received the all-clear regarding the coronavirus”
Lagniappe reached out to Club For Growth Action through its website about why campaign materials were being hand-delivered during a global pandemic and to inquire as to whether the individuals canvassing for Hightower are being paid for their time or volunteering. A response has not been received. It’s also unclear whether Club for Growth Action, which puts millions behind conservative candidates across the country, is currently using similar tactics in other states currently impacted by COVID-19.
Hightower is in the midst of a primary runoff against Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl that was supposed to culminate in an election March 31. However, in light of the potential for COVID-19 to be spread at the polls, Gov. Kay Ivey postponed the election until July 14 earlier this week.
Carl previously called on Hightower and groups supporting him to suspend their paid advertising as officials at all levels of government work to address the pandemic. Hightower declined and accused Carl of “using a national emergency” for political purposes to “…remove his false ads from the air.”
Though Carl acknowledged that he’s had some limited contact with his campaign handlers over the past few days, he said most of his time has been spent working with officials in the city of Mobile and Mobile County Health Department to identify and set up public sites for future COVID-19 testing.
Carl said he doesn’t have any control over what his opponent or out-of-state groups do, but he did say that in this time of crisis, sending supporters door to door is “putting people at risk.”
“I want to be campaigning as bad as anybody else, but I’m doing what I’m supposed to be by quarantining myself and my family and looking after the best interests of the people in South Alabama,” Carl said. “That doesn’t make me a hero, I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
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