Days before Rep. Ben McAdams announced he had COVID-19, a candidate vying to unseat the Utah Democrat launched his campaign with a video featuring lawmakers being wheeled on hospital beds through what appear to be the halls of Congress.
That part of the video, for Republican hopeful Trent Christensen, was edited out from the version posted on the candidate’s website Wednesday, as cases of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spiked across the country and hours before McAdams and another lawmaker, Florida GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, announced they had contracted the virus.
Christensen, the CEO of a venture capital firm and the regional finance director for Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, told CQ Roll Call he had been attempting to take “a lighthearted look” at career politicians in Washington but reconsidered as the level of anxiety in the country rose this week. In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, he noted, Utah experienced a 5.7 magnitude earthquake Wednesday.
“With everything going on, we wanted to make sure the tone was appropriate with where everyone was,” he said.
The video is the latest example of political messaging that has fallen flat in recent weeks as candidates attempt to adjust to the rapidly changing mood of a country facing an economic and public health crisis unlike anything in recent memory.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP, has sought to rein in campaigns in recent days. A directive distributed last week by its chairman, Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, urged candidates to be sensitive to voters’ fears.
“At times like this, you need to ask yourself if your press release or snarky comment are in poor taste,” it read.
Christensen’s video opened with him standing in what appears to be a congressional office building, smirking as he greeted senators and House members passing by in wheelchairs or on gurneys, some pushed by aides and others by nurses.
He then turns to the camera and declares, “They’ll outlive us all,” before making a pledge to limit the number of terms he would serve if elected.
Christensen is part of a crowded field competing for the GOP nomination to challenge McAdams in the June primary in the 4th District. His opponents include former NFL player Burgess Owens, former radio host Jay McFarland, former state Rep. Kim Coleman, former state GOP communications director Kathleen Anderson, and Chris Biesinger, a nurse practitioner and National Guard officer.
McAdams, the former Salt Lake County Mayor, became the only Democrat representing heavily Republican Utah in Congress when he unseated Republican incumbent Mia Love in 2018 by less than half a percentage point. He was No. 5 on Roll Call’s list of most vulnerable House members and is a prime GOP target.
McAdams tweeted Wednesday that mild, cold-like symptoms that began after he returned from Washington on Saturday had worsened by Tuesday to a fever, dry cough and labored breathing. He was self-quarantined at home.
“I urge Utahns to take this seriously,” McAdams said in his statement.