Will National, State Elections Hinge on Pandemic Response?

May 13, 2020

Will COVID-19 be top-of-mind for voters in November?

Political predictions are always risky, agreed former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking at the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings Tuesday. But both said it’s likely that this year’s national and state races will be a referendum—up and down the ticket—on how well governments dealt with the pandemic and the economic recovery.

Rahm Emanuel

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

In fact, Emanuel, a Democrat who also served as chief of staff in the Obama White House, and Christie, a Republican who made his own run for the presidency in 2016, agreed more than they differed during the NAR Political and Legislative Forum. The 2020 election, they said, will be like none other since in-person campaigning has been rendered impossible, at least for now.

“The last person who ran from their front porch or home was [President] McKinley, and as far as I can tell, there are no McKinley advisers around to consult with,” Emanuel quipped.

Unlike in 1896, election races this year will be waged primarily over social media and the internet. “I thought [those] would increase over the next 10 years,” Emanuel said. “But that 10 years has now collapsed into six months.”

“A lot of people will still be working from home during the heart of the campaign,” Christie said. “When you’re on your computer, on Skype, WebEx, whatever, between calls, how are [the candidates] going to get to you?”

Campaigns and political parties will need to provide “concierge services to voters,” reaching out to them in a more hands-on way than in the past to help people understand different ways they can vote, Emanuel said. “A lot of us talk about mail-in ballots, but those are just the tip of the spear,” he added, referring to the work of educating voters and getting the voting information to them before they can make use of any voting method.

Chris Christie

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

With governors playing a large role during the pandemic, those running for reelection will be judged to a large extent by how they handle reopening their states, Christie said. “Governors who are adept at not taking a one-size-fits-all approach”—using science to guide how to open their states region by region and county by county—“will give people hope, and the ones who are providing hope will succeed,” he said.

Political and Legislative Forum Chair John Blom of Vancouver, Wash., who moderated Thursday’s discussion, along with Vice Chair Matt Silver of Chicago, asked Christie and Emanuel who they thought would be the running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Again, the two agreed it’s as much a personal decision as it is a political one. “When you get up from a [divided] Cabinet meeting and walk to the Oval Office, what person will follow you?” Emmanuel said.

When Christie had to select a lieutenant governor candidate in New Jersey, “it came down to three people. I asked one of my advisers, and his response was, ‘Who do you like the most?’ It was a great question. And I picked the person I liked the most.”

Christie went out on a limb, predicting Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar would be Biden’s vice presidential pick. “He has a good, long-term relationship with her in his time in the Senate and as VP. Amy ran for president and ran a strong, representative race,” Christie said, “and I think she could be seen as someone who could be president.”

One final point of agreement: The real estate industry will be critical to the country’s economic recovery.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom about the stock market [building wealth], people’s equity and life savings are still in owning a home,” Emanuel said.

“I was glad to join NAR to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 national election,” Christie said. “I look forward to continuing to have these discussions with the real estate industry to help move our country forward.”

The REALTORS® Legislative Meetings take place through May 15. As of Wednesday morning, more than 25,000 attendees had registered for the event.