Former President Barack Obama and former Senator John McCain suspended their campaigns and returned to Washington for bailout talks during the 2008 financial crisis. Last year, former Representative Beto O’Rourke briefly suspended his campaign to return to El Paso after a deadly shooting at Walmart there.
“This is decision-making in flux,” Professor Martorano Miller said.
In 1918, midterm elections were playing out during a flu pandemic — and during World War I, adding extra heft to decisions that voters would make at the polls. Some incumbents were criticized for leaving Washington to campaign when important decisions were being made, so they communicated with voters remotely, by writing letters and issuing news releases.
One candidate campaigned by car, stopping the vehicle and having an aide play a cornet to draw a crowd, until public gatherings were banned. At the polls, workers in some places wore masks and voters spaced themselves as they queued up.
Quarantines were in place in many areas, but the levels of social distancing varied among communities. Trades were made between campaigns and local government officials who opened polling places in exchange for, say, allowing a play to be performed in front of a crowd, said Dr. Watkins, the public health historian who studied pandemics.
Dr. Watkins said she is struck by similarities between the 1918 outbreak and the current one. The shutdowns of businesses and gatherings. And the way some government officials have warned people not to underestimate the power of the virus. In 1918, they produced ads that featured Uncle Sam, saying, “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, as dangerous as poison gas shells.”