Coronavirus suddenly upends campaign themes for both parties

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo the White House is seen in Washington. The coronavirus pandemic and the nation's crashing economy are scrambling the themes both political parties thought would carry them to victory in this November's elections. Gone, at least for now, are the hopes of President Donald Trump and Re(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo the White House is seen in Washington. The coronavirus pandemic and the nation's crashing economy are scrambling the themes both political parties thought would carry them to victory in this November's elections. Gone, at least for now, are the hopes of President Donald Trump and Re(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The coronavirus pandemic and the country's collapsing economy are forcing Democrats and Republicans to rethink the messaging they thought would help them win November's elections for White House and congressional control.

Shattered, certainly for now, is President Donald Trump's ability to tout a brawny economy and record stock market prices as the predicate for his reelection. And it could be hard for Republicans to call Democrats socialists with a straight face as Congress approaches a bipartisan deal on a near $2 trillion rescue package that would essentially have government drive the economy indefinitely.

Democrats say they're the party that will protect people's health care, but it's unclear that would be heard by people focused mostly on when life will return to normal. And by pounding away at Trump's competence, they'd risk alienating voters who, during a stressful time, want policymakers to produce solutions, not partisan wrangling.

“We're in the middle of a hurricane. We don't know all the political consequences. We don't know if it's a Cat 1 or a Cat 5,” said GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak, referring to categories used to express the strength of storms.

Trump has seized public attention with almost daily briefings about the government's response to the pandemic. That's left former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, and his party's congressional candidates searching for ways to break into the news cycle.

Clearly, campaign themes are changing.

Five political advertisers had run ads mentioning the coronavirus through last week, according to Advertising Analytics, a firm that tracks ad data. That included one in Florida, in Spanish, by Biden, and two by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“In times like this, we must work together,” Collins, who faces a competitive November reelection in a state that prizes independence, tells the camera.