With the presidential race getting down to the wire, I took to the streets of Alexandria, VA today to knock on doors and talk to undecided voters about the environmental differences between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.
It was easy to draw a distinction between the two candidates. Sen. McCain’s lifetime rating on environmental issues is only 26%, compared to Sen. Obama’s 96%. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which compiles the ratings, gave us more talking points and a leave-behind "door hanger" full of information about Sen. Obama’s alternative energy proposals. Armed with lists of undecided voters and their addresses, I, my husband, and other volunteers fanned out to canvas the area and build momentum for an Obama victory.
Talking about Democrats in northen Virginia is not usually a piece of cake. I canvassed Republican neighborhoods in Arlington, VA for John Kerry four years ago and sometimes felt worried for my life. In one instance, guys in a big truck sporting a rifle in a rack across the back window pulled up to me, called me a "communist" and yelled at me to get out of their town.
The setting today couldn’t have been more bucolic. The Indian Spring neighborhood I was assigned was punctuated by streets with names like Morning View Lane and Carriage House Court. Kids rode bikes and played ball as fathers took advantage of ideal fall weather to wash their mini-vans or SUVs and moms gardened. Many families have already decorated their houses for Halloween, festooning trees with ghosts and goblins and lining walkways with big orange pumpkins.
Knocking on the first door can be the hardest. You just never know if people are going to snarl at you or welcome you with a big smile and happily announce they’re on your side. Given the hateful rhetoric that’s marked McCain rallies in recent days, I was half expecting someone to let their dogs loose on me. But the high pitch that’s characterized political gatherings doesn’t seem to have permeated the neighborhood I visited today.
I approached several houses before someone finally answered. The woman, a voter just about my age, was polite but noncommittal. We were supposed to find out if voters were strongly in favor of Obama, leaning that way, still undecided, leaning towards McCain, or strongly in McCain’s camp. Most people didn’t want to say: only two people I talked with admitted they were voting for Obama; one woman thanked me profusely for helping to get out the vote. A man working on his car gave me a friendly smile but said he was voting "the other way." I thanked him for listening — then was heartened to see an "Obama/Biden" lawn sign just a couple doors down.
In several cases, voters told me that I was the "fifth" or "sixth" Obama supporter to knock on their door. I apologized for the intrusion and explained that LCV organizers are not allowed to talk with the Obama campaign about tactics or they’d be violating federal election law. LCV was glad to hear Obama’s volunteers had preceded us; they seemed to think it was necessary to approach the neighborhood multiple times to ensure voters get the Obama message.
When all the volunteers completed their assignments, we rendezvoused at a nearby Starbucks to report on our success and share stories. LCV staff couldn’t have been more appreciative of our effort. We’re not sure if we made a difference or not — but we’ll be back next weekend to canvas some more. Doing something feels a lot better than doing nothing. With the polls showing that Virginia has become a key battleground state, maybe this ‘something’ will help make history three weeks from now.
NOTE: Door-to-door canvassing is part of a national effort by the League of Conservation Voters to persuade undecided voters to support Obama and ensure that the Democrat’s advocates actually get to the polls.
To sign up to canvas, contact the League of Conservation Voters.