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Candidates turn to social media for campaigning amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Collins and Gideon campaigns have invested heavily in digital advertisements and remote constituent meetings due to fewer opportunities for in-person campaigning

MAINE, USA — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, candidates gearing up for the November have had to find new ways to connect with voters. With coronavirus restrictions in place across the state, it means those vying for office have had fewer chances to meet with voters. 

"That in-person element of talking to people is so important," said Riley Ploch, digital director for the Sen. Collins campaign. "We really have had to amp up our online activity a lot. But we would rather be going to parades and things like that." 

Ploch and his team have lead the initiative to connect with voters virtually for the Collins campaign. Maine's incumbent senator has met with constituents virtually through Zoom. It's something the Gideon campaign has had to do as well, shifting it's 'Supper with Sara' series online, and holding numerous town halls and round tables.

"Sara believes that Mainers deserve a senator who is accessible and understands what they're going through now more than ever, and that's why we've continued to find new and innovative ways to stay in touch with Mainers during the coronavirus pandemic," said Gideon's press secretary Will Simons. 

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However, with national eyes on the race for U.S. Senate, the two major-party candidates have invested heavily in digital advertising. 

"It's going to be expensive. You're going to see outside groups that are going to spend a lot of money in this race because it has national implications," said Bowdoin College Professor of Government Michael Franz. 

Franz has analyzed campaign ads for 10 years as co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. He says in recent years, candidates have shifted from a focus on TV advertising to a more diversified media strategy. 

"We're not going to see and end at any point in political advertising. There's always going to be political advertising, it's just going to show up in the places where voters or citizens watch media. Where they accumulate news or watch entertainment and that's moving increasingly online," said Franz. 

In the race for U.S. Senate, both Sara Gideon and Sen. Susan Collins campaigns have invested heavily in advertising on social media. 

According to data from Facebook Ad Library, since 2018, the Collins campaign has invested $260,159 on advertisements on Facebook and Instagram alone. In the last week, the Collins campaign has $18,973 on those same ads. 

The Gideon campaign has also been spending on digital ads. Also according to Facebook Ad Library data, the Gideon campaign has spent $94,618 on Facebook and Instagram ads in the last week. That brings her total spending on ads in those two media platforms to $2,019,088 since 2018. 

These ads have the potential to reach thousands. The numbers listed above are also just money spent on ads specifically from campaigns themselves. Multiple special interest groups have also paid for ads based around Maine's race for U.S. Senate. 

Franz believes that this type of spending and the number of campaign ads on social media will soon the norm. 

"This is just the beginning of what will probably be the most expensive race in the state's history," said Franz. 

Franz also sites the ability to target ads on those social media platforms as a strong reason candidates are choosing to do so.