Saturday, October 25, 2008

Canvassing, Part I

A few days ago, I canvassed for Barack Obama with my friend Miles and his daughter, Sophia, already famous for their extensive participation in Hanover County near Richmond, where they live. Hanover County is a reliably Republican county, but the Obama campaign is taking nothing for granted--they hope to significantly reduce the Republican margin in the county.

For the most part my participation was as sort of a pack mule, carrying campaign literature, as Miles asked each household (that had previous either been identified as undecided or had not received a completed visit) their voting preferences. We spent about two hours in this highly Republican area and ended up hitting about 25 houses.

The process is highly refined, and Miles and Sophia had a definitive pattern. Working from a map, we methodically went up to each house; Miles rang the doorbell and stepped back off the porch and waited for the person to answer. He first introduced himself, his daughter and me, then asked respondents if they were the person on the list, and when they replied, he asked the residents if they had made a decision about their voting preferences for both the president and the Senate and then carefully noted the reply.

The OED defines canvas "to entangle or catch in a net," but if there is such a net, it's of the flimsiest of materials; there is no hard sell, even if the voter is undecided. My friends seemed to understand the balance between the privacy of the resident and aims of the campaign; the most symbolic aspect of the campaign was Miles's deliberate decision to walk off the porch to stand on the walk (it's also interesting that all the houses in this particular development had both well defined porches and walks). It suggested Miles's desire to seem non-threatening. As I confessed when we walked on these suburban streets, I hate when people knock on my door, and Miles seem to understand this. 

But it was also true that Miles was determined to reach every house and so he had to balance his own desires not to intrude with his strong will to reach every voter who might vote for Obama.

More canvassing stories later...


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