In front of Roper Hall, 8 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 9.
There I was, about to embark on my second campaign trip to Philadelphia with a few of my fellow AU College Republicans. This time our group, along with the D.C. Federation of College Republicans, rented mini vans for the trip. Blasting Country music, my van, the middle in the entourage of College Republicans, drove off.
The road to Philadelphia was surprisingly uneventful. Passing through Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, I slept through most of the journey, unaccustomed to the warbling notes coming from the country western music channel on the radio. A game of cat and mouse ensued shortly after I woke up in Delaware, with each of the CR vans trying to maintain a lead. My van fell back from the start and never did catch up.
Finally, we pulled into the parking lot of the Bush/Cheney ‘04 headquarters in Blue Bell, Penn. We gathered clipboards, maps, literature and walking lists as we split up into groups of six to canvass neighborhoods around the Philadelphia suburbs.
My group was assigned a precinct about 30 minutes from the headquarters. We split the neighborhood into three parts, and pairs canvassed their respective section. My partner John and I soon found ourselves alone on a quiet suburban street. As we began knocking on doors, it became apparent that few were home on this sunny Saturday. We left literature at every door and gladly took the opportunity to talk to people who were actually at home.
The neighborhood’s inhabitants were mostly undecided. This is interesting, after three Presidential debates and countless hours of commentary have provided most f the nation with a clear picture of each candidate and where each stands on various issues. We quickly finished our section, approximately 200 houses, and moved on to help the rest of our group with their sections. This is very hard work, walking several miles and still remaining patient enough to answer questions and respectfully take any additional commentary people had.
Along the way, we ran into workers canvassing for Kerry/Edwards ‘04 as well as a group called the League of Conservation Voters. We exchanged friendly hellos and went about our business. We soon saw the evidence of their work; houses had massive amounts of literature already in place by the time we came to them.
By about 5 p.m., we had finished canvassing our precinct, covering more than 600 houses. We made the journey back to headquarters, where we were quickly assigned to work at the phone bank.
Making phone calls to prospective voters is not as easy as it sounds. First, the campaign gives you a list with phone numbers and names, and a script to follow. Our calls pertained to absentee ballot request forms. Often, when I would call a house, a child, friend or relative of an individual on the list would answer and couldn’t answer any of the prescribed questions. Sometimes a phone number was listed with an incorrect name, or the phone number was no longer in use.
Occasionally, the person called would just hang up when they heard the phrase “I am a volunteer at Bush/Cheney ‘04.” I felt awkward calling strangers and asking them somewhat personal information, even if it is for a good cause. Often, an answering machine would play, and I had the unnerving experience of leaving a message and then realizing that the answering machine had hung up on me.
Soon enough, the dinner hour came and we stopped making phone calls, calling it a day. We headed to a local Old Country Buffet, famished from a long day of hard work. After devouring half the buffet, a gentleman seated close to our group spontaneously began clapping for us for our work for the Republican Party, and soon, several other people in the restaurant began clapping as well. It was a spectacle to behold: a group of College Republicans stuffing themselves with food while receiving applause for their campaign work.
Our group then proceeded to our hotel, which oddly enough was in Cherry Hill, N.J. We had a great time at this Holiday Inn, with a few members of our group enjoying the pool and all its amenities, and others enjoying the baseball game on television, while still others enjoyed a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘Em. The fun continued well into the night, and most of us didn’t go to bed until about 3 a.m.
The next day came way too early. The group packed into the minivans and headed to the local Dunkin Donuts. While enjoying a free cup of piping hot coffee and the pastry of choice, we watched Ann Coulter’s commentary on the election on CNN. Then we headed back to Pennsylvania to start another day of campaigning.
We split up into groups and gathered new maps and new walking lists, and headed out into the fray. This time, my partner Alan and I headed into a very interesting neighborhood. On one side of a main road was a very nice neighborhood, with large, older houses and well-kept gardens that had a nice air of Americana about it. On the other side, in sharp contrast, were smaller, somewhat dilapidated houses and duplexes, many with weeds and old newspapers in the front.
It was a challenge to bridge the gap between these two areas, one with many more Republican voters, the other with a straight Democratic voting record. Most Americans have preconceived notions about each party, and often refuse to consider anything that contradicts those notions. In the not-so-nice area, one gentleman cornered me for more than 10 minutes and lectured me on the “great” record of John Kerry and why I should be working for him instead of President Bush. He explained that Kerry is not ambiguous in his plans for the future, just that they have so much detail that it seems ambiguous to the ordinary voter who does not have “the whole picture.” I thanked him for his time, appreciative at least for a person willing to engage with me on a level beyond formalities, and moved on, ever hopeful that I might find a Republican-friendly person in that neighborhood. Alas, it was not to be, but I left plenty of literature in case any might change their mind.
The day wound to an end, and my group returned to headquarters, made a few phone calls from the phone bank, and posed for a picture with the vans bedecked in Bush/Cheney ‘04 signs. We then started our journey back to D.C., again playing cat and mouse. This time, my van was in the lead for much of the trip, and garnered much attention as it moved in and out of traffic. Many honks and dirty looks headed our way, but an equal number of thumbs up and clapping also occurred in the lines for the toll way. Such is the life of an active campaigner, no matter the cause.
Finally, around 9 p.m., our van pulled up to AU, and we disembarked, waving goodbye to our friends from George Washington as they headed to Foggy Bottom. Exhausted, I fell into bed and proceeded to dream about campaigning and our next trip.
Lauren Cooper is a sophomore economics major and member of the College Republicans.