Don’t count on many campaign stops

It’s 2020, which means many things to different people.

For those of us in the news business, it means the presidential election season is in full swing. Of course, because of the nature of this beast, it seems as if the election has been taking place for at least the last year, but the rallies, debates and bus tours will be shifting into a higher gear in the coming months.

We may, or may not, see any of that action here in the Ohio Valley, though.

At one point, we were guaranteed visits from at least a couple of presidential candidates per cycle. There are old photos and articles from this newspaper showing candidates and presidents visiting Weirton and Steubenville. There are dinners and motorcades, rallies and stops at local businesses. They’re all chronicled.

Today, while some may make an appearance in Wheeling, and they definitely visit Pittsburgh, our immediate area feels special if the spouse of a candidate, or some other representative, shows up to speak for 20 minutes.

There have been a couple of rare exceptions in the last 20 years, but for the most part, gone are the days of rallies at the Millsop Community Center and tours of various points of interest in our communities.

We may get a senatorial candidate pop in, or someone running for governor, but even when they do come to town, the town doesn’t always show up. I can’t tell you how many times in recent years, there have been town halls and meet and greets with maybe only a dozen or so residents in attendance.

Now, some of that does fall onto the campaigns as they have a tendency to wait until a day or two before their arrival to contact local media, but if the word is out there it puzzles me as to why no one shows up.

Maybe that’s part of it, as well. Perhaps candidates have heard of low crowd sizes and don’t feel as if the investment of coming to our area is worth it.

Truly, it all comes down to better communication. Being able to send a message out into the digital realm doesn’t eliminate the need to utilize more traditional means of campaigning or communicating. Sometimes a face-to-face meeting or a public stump speech can have a greater impact than a 140-character post.

I realize any kind of campaign can get expensive, and when it’s for a national office there are only so many places one can go before an election. At the same time, given our so-called Rust Belt has received so much attention in recent years when it comes to national policy and development discussions, I would think those national candidates, or even those seeking high office in our state, would want to come here for more than a couple of private dinners.

Perhaps this year will be different.

So far, candidates have been focusing primarily on those states voting early, so we may start seeing a few popping in beginning in late March or early April. My guess would be they’ll be going to Charleston, though.

Running for any office involves connecting with the voters and learning what issues are important to them. If candidates don’t find a way to do that, or if the voters don’t take an interest, how can that exchange of ideas take place?

If you don’t hold public events, media availabilities or advertise, how can you fully express your message to the people?

Twitter and Facebook don’t always help, folks.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)