By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
Every political season has a different tone and atmosphere, but this year’s might have come from a galaxy far, far away.
First the coronavirus pandemic eliminated traditional campaigning and replaced it with virtual Zoom meetings, face masks, social distancing and absentee ballots.
Gone are the visits to the local dump, shaking hands at the grocery store and ambling around downtown (pick your city or town) to meet voters.
The parties have approached campaigning differently as Republicans hold more fact-to-face meetings, while Democrats use the electronic infrastructure to spread the word.
Absentee ballot requests are record setting, almost 150,000 as of last week, as they were for the primary election. The large number of absentee ballots will change the election night dynamics, but not as significantly as it first appeared.
Everyone is gearing up for an election with momentous consequences setting the nation’s course for decades.
And again New Hampshire is a battleground state for the presidential race.
But without question, this campaign for the heart and soul of America centers on one issue, the coronavirus and what was and was not done to slow its spread and prevent hundreds of thousands of United States residents from losing their lives.
As of Saturday, 7.37 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and almost 210,000 have died.
The Vietnam War claimed the lives of 58,209 Americans and 405,399 Americans lost their lives in World War II.
The only country with close to the number of infections is India with 6.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, and Brazil is closest with 146,000 deaths.
New Hampshire is fortunate to have escaped the kind of human devastation that befell New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas and California and is now impacting the upper Midwest.
But New Hampshire should not be smug because it has not controlled the virus as well as its Northern New England neighbors, Vermont and Maine with far fewer deaths and much lower caseloads, particularly Vermont.
Maine would look a lot better if a super spreader wedding had not taken place in Millinocket in August with a reach extending to the Granite and Bay states.
And if you needed to be reminded the election is about the pandemic, last week was a wake-up call as President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania tested positive for COVID-19 along with his close aid Hope Hicks, former aid Kellyanne Conway, three Republican U.S. Senators, Trump’s campaign chair, the Republican National Committee chair, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
This is not the October surprise the Trump campaign envisioned.
Trump has done his best to “move on” from the pandemic during the campaign, acting like it is in the rearview mirror.
But it is not as the events this week demonstrate.
The president ignored his own administration’s medical advice and continued to hold large mostly outdoor rallies for thousands of followers, most of whom like the president forego wearing a mask and not follow social distancing guidelines to avoid infection.
Instead Trump tried his best to make the campaign about law and order and tying Democrats, particularly Democratic nominee Joe Biden, to the looting and violence happening in several cities after black men and women were killed or shot by police.
The President talks about gun rights, raising taxes and destroying the economy if Democrats are elected, but offers no proof any of it will happen.
And he pushes for the total reopening of the economy although states that have followed his advice have experienced spikes in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Trump also sent a chill through even many rock-solid Republicans when he hinted he may not peacefully leave office if he loses, and failed to denounce a violent, white supremacy group during the first presidential debate.
Today Trump is in Walter Reed Medical Center being treated for the coronavirus and his campaign events for the next two weeks are either postponed, canceled or will occur in the virtual universe.
In New Hampshire the number of cases has jumped up the last few weeks with 99 new cases Friday and 66 Saturday, some due to changes in the way antibody tests are tabulated.
While the infection rate remains about 1 percent of those tested, no one believes this is going in the right direction heading into fall and winter when people spend more time indoors where the virus spreads more readily.
The state had $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act money to offset coronavirus costs and to help businesses and residents try to recover from the economic devastation from the two-month shutdown during the early days of the pandemic.
But now with about $200 million remaining to be allocated, concern grows about the financial impact on the state’s hospitals, particularly Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua that bore an overabundance of the COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state.
Nursing homes and schools have difficulty finding specific personal protection equipment while the Federal Emergency Management Agency no longer pays 75 percent of the cost of PPE for the state’s public schools.
Many school districts have spent millions of dollars to prepare their schools and students for the return of school and much of those costs will be borne by local property taxpayers.
State revenues will be hundreds of millions of dollars short by the end of the biennium and some communities will be out millions of dollars of property tax revenue due to the pandemic.
Many businesses that received Payroll Protection Program grants or loans, or Main State Relief Fund grants from the CARES Act money will not make it through the winter.
The pandemic has changed how people live and how they buy things, and businesses expecting things “to go back to normal” soon will not survive.
Federal stipends to boost the state’s unemployment payments ended and no new help is in sight.
Yes, this election is about the coronavirus just as the 1968 election was about the Vietnam War and the 2008 election about the Great Recession.
A vaccine may be developed by the end of the year, but that will not be soon enough to impact the Nov. 3 election.
There is no escape even in New Hampshire.
What United States citizens believe about the coronavirus and how this country dealt and deals with it will determine who wins.
Even here in New Hampshire where the pandemic’s impact has not been so severe, but it certainly has been powerful.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.
InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.