Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nashua GOTV, part one

I put this on Daily Kos a couple days ago, but not here for some reason. So better late than never.

I used to hate canvassing. Sometimes it just had to be done, but every porch I went up onto, I was praying that nobody would be home so I could leave some literature and slink away. If anyone answered the door, I was likely to forget a crucial part of the script, like the part where I asked them to actually do something. Shoot, if I remembered to say my candidate's name I was proud. But I'm getting to where I kinda like it, and I'm wanting to encourage anyone who is like I used to be to give it a shot.

Both saturday and today, I was canvassing with Emily-the-campaign-press-person. She is fabulous and we talked a great deal about jelly beans, as Patrick-the-field-director characterized it. (I don't know quite what that means, either.) By the end we had this perfect routine - we could alternate who did which part of the spiel without any advance notice or real hesitation, and that kept things a little fresher.

Our lists were of hardcore, regularly-voting Democrats, so the job was less one of persuasion than of reminding them to vote in the primary tuesday, lack of opposition notwithstanding, and, since Paul Hodes' name recognition is not particularly high, being sure that these committed Dems know enough about him to go from voting for the Democrat to voting for Paul specifically.

For almost everyone we talked to, hearing that Paul is a Democrat was good enough. Past that, the question I got more than any other, oddly, was "where is he from?" (Concord) But then, as many people knew him personally or professionally as wanted to know where he's from. One man asked his position on Iraq and Emily answered, quickly and firmly "finding a responsible exit strategy now." The man nodded once, decisively, like "good enough, we're done here." This being New Hampshire, land of the impossibly large state legislature, when a woman answered the door and cheerfully said "you know who I am, don't you," Emily immediately got the correct answer: "a state representative."

This was an unusual canvass in that we got so few negative responses - a few total blow-offs, a couple of mixed marriages where we were unlucky and the Republican spouse came to the door, definitely some people pretending not to be home when they obviously were (c'mon, guys, the door is open, the tv is on, and we heard dishes clinking as we came up the walk). So the conditions were right for me to feel really good about it. But that being the case, it also reminded me of some of what can be great about canvassing.

Canvassing brings you to neighborhoods you'd never go to otherwise, like the working-class neighborhoods we did yesterday with their tchotchke-covered porches and their conspicuous patriotism. I don't go to those neighborhoods - I do college town and urban and rural, but very rarely ranch houses with painted mailboxes and goose statues. One neighborhood was obviously in transition, with elderly people with French names (a constant pronunciation issue, since the degree to which such people have anglicized pronunciation varies immensely) making way for Latino people. Approaching one door, for instance, we noticed that instead of Boucher the mailbox said Diaz; I looked down at the sheet and noted that Camille Boucher would have been 88. Ms. Diaz had just moved in and was not yet registered to vote, so we told her where her polling place is and that she could register on election day if she brought a utility bill, and gave her our literature.

Today we were in a neighborhood of gorgeous New England Victorians of the sort found in the nicest neighborhoods where I grew up. I don't live in one of those, and I never get tired of looking at them, but I'm familiar with them. Emily's from New York City, and she was in raptures. We picked our favorite houses and gardens as we went, including a couple that we just couldn't get enough of looking at.

I'm not dwelling on this stuff to further my carefully-cultivated image as a shallow fluffball. The point is, canvassing is not only important work, it's an interesting way to spend a day. On the sidewalks between houses you get to know your canvassing partner (if you don't already) and there are always going to be fascinating conversations to be had - about the issues in the election, about the campaign, about that creep at the last house you went to, about the garden at that last house you went to, about whether the fact that this next house has a flag and two honkin' big SUVs is a bad sign, and on and on through infinite possibilities. You learn about people - maybe just that they're all out of the house on saturday mornings, maybe that even many Democrats who always vote only start paying real attention to elections in mid september, maybe that it's as important that Paul Hodes is from Concord as what any of his positions are.

Anyway: canvassing, not as fun as it is important, but still good fun. And mega-important. I recommend it. I look forward to hearing from others about their experiences with it.

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