On Sunday, the News & Observer printed headline shouted “Pandemic Dominates NC Governor’s Race.” That’s not the only race that it’s likely to dominate. The rising cases and increasing death toll will drive much of the conversation heading down the stretch. How to deal with a virus that has shuttered businesses and schools and killed more than 200,000 people could determine who wins the election. 

In the race for US Senate, Thom Tillis wants to make the contest about Cal Cunningham’s sex life, but a group called Paid Leave for All Action is launching an ad campaign putting the focus on Tillis’ opposition to support for families and small businesses during the pandemic. The group says that paid family and medical leave could be the deciding factor in the election this year. They might be right.

Republicans have largely failed to address the concerns about the virus, preferring instead to ignore precautions and downplay the impact. Even after Trump contracted the virus at a Rose Garden event, he resumed rallies with largely maskless crowds greeting him at airports around the country. Trumpers and other conservatives might not be concerned about the virus but most North Carolinians are.

Polls show that people are more concerned about the health effects of the virus than the economic ones. They still are worried about their jobs and income but they fear sickness and death more. Makes sense. 

Conservatives insist the fears are overblown and a document called the Great Barrington Declaration is calling for the country to reopen and allow herd immunity to spread through the land. The document doesn’t say that the remedy would likely cost around one million lives or more. One alternative to the Great Barrington Declaration is a full scale government response that includes preventative measures like mask mandates, testing and tracing, and paid leave to allow people who are sick to stay out of the workplace. 

The Great Barrington Declaration comes from conservatives’ skepticism that government can do anything right and relies instead on their free market ideology to solve all of our problems. If we just let everything run its course with no intervention we will be better off. That’s great if you can afford to self-isolate, working from home and staying away from relatives in posh retirement communities. It’s not so hot if grandma lives at home with you and you work in a frontline job at a hog processing plant.  

The pandemic will likely be the closing debate of the campaign whether Republicans like it or not. As people go indoors with cooler weather, the virus is going to spread. It’s already spiking across the upper Midwest. Providing paid leave would allow people to protect themselves and their families while helping to contain the virus. That Thom Tillis and other Republicans oppose such a measure shows they are on the wrong side of the argument about how to keep Americans safe. 

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