JEFFERSON CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic is upending election campaigns across the U.S., but the push to expand Medicaid in Missouri is still on track, organizers say.
“We have not been and will not be collecting any additional signatures,” said Jack Cardetti, spokesperson for Healthcare for Missouri, in an email. “Our campaign will be able to submit the required number of valid signatures.”
Meanwhile, the two high-profile campaigns for Missouri governor are altering standard practice to account for the changing landscape. Among the plans being implemented by Republican Gov. Mike Parson and his Democratic challenger, Auditor Nicole Galloway, are the postponement of large fundraisers and the stopping of political travel.
“During this unprecedented time, in the interest of public awareness Governor Parson’s reelection campaign has shifted into an information-sharing mode because it’s important Missourians know the actions the governor has taken to combat COVID-19,” campaign manager Steele Shippy said.
“In order to do our part to flatten the curve, the Galloway campaign transitioned to telework and online voter contact nearly two weeks ago. We’re adding new digital tools and virtual campaign offices to increase our online engagement with Missourians,” said campaign spokesman Eric Slusher.
Concerns about COVID-19 are also forcing the campaign supporting Medicaid expansion to make some changes.
Healthcare for Missouri will be pausing its public events until further notice, said A.J. Bockelman, the group’s campaign manager, in a Monday email to supporters. The campaign is following federal, state and local guidelines, he said.
“That’s why in the weeks ahead, we’ll look to hold virtual events to keep our grassroots supporters like you involved in our campaign,” Bockelman wrote.
But the changes won’t hamper the campaign’s plan to get expansion in front of voters in November.
Healthcare for Missouri has said it needs 172,000 signatures from registered Missouri voters by May 3 to place the question on the ballot.
Because it got an early start, the campaign will make that deadline, Bockelman wrote.
The push for Medicaid expansion officially kicked off in September and had gathered 75% of signatures by early February.
If approved by voters, the proposal would expand Missouri’s program to cover adults younger than 65 who make less than 138% of the federal poverty line. Missouri is one of 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid.
There is no campaign committee that opposes Medicaid expansion, according to Missouri Ethics Commission filings.
Parson’s campaign has pivoted toward amplifying his coronavirus response actions, sending out emails that mirror what his office has been doing in recent weeks.
The campaign also has set up a website — Parsonupdates.com — to highlight the steps he has taken to control the spread of the disease.
“Now is not the time to play politics — our governor and his campaign are committed to working across the aisle to help Missourians through this challenging time in an open and transparent way,” Shippy said.
A political action committee that is raising money for the governor also says it is dialing down its actions.
“Last week, amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Uniting Missouri PAC paused all political messaging. We did so because it’s the right thing to do. People are focused on keeping their families safe and not wanting to hear partisan attacks,” said PAC spokesman John Hancock.
However, Hancock on Monday lashed out at the Democratic Governors Association, alleging that it has launched partisan attacks on Parson during a national crisis.
The DGA, which is supporting Galloway, has sent out emails containing news stories and editorials raising questions about whether the governor is doing enough.
“The Democratic Governors Association has continued to launch partisan political attacks against Governor Parson at a time of crisis in Missouri. It is clear they are more focused on gaining power than allowing the Governor to do his job and protect the people of our state,” Hancock said.
Galloway, too, has issued calls for Parson to take more aggressive action to stop the spread of the virus.
On March 13, Galloway called on Parson to issue an emergency declaration in order for the state to access federal funds. The governor made that declaration the same day.
Galloway also urged the state to expand the availability of testing kits, saying the state is not adequately prepared to get a handle on the scope of the outbreak.
And, in a campaign announcement, she said the tests should be free for those on the state’s Medicaid program.
Slusher said much of the campaign communication is being handled electronically.
“Auditor Galloway is spending time on the phone, using video conferencing, and FaceTime to stay in touch with local leaders, health care professionals, and workers who are on the front line responding to this public health and economic emergency,” he said.