Election Diary 3: Canvassing in Trump Country

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A few days ago, an email from the Swarthmore Democrats offered the following tip:

Due to reports of stolen [campaign] signs, please put a notice on or near your sign: “If you steal this sign, I will donate to the Hillary campaign AGAIN!”

Saturday morning: Sure enough, one of my Hillary lawn signs is missing. In fact, my husband saw the thief in action! He’d gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom when he heard a car pull up and stop on the street outside. Looking out the window, he saw “some fat doofus” get out of a beat-up van, steal the sign, and drive off. He decided not to yell at the guy, figuring he’d just wake me up and possibly disturb the neighbors. When they go low, we go high?

There’s going to be a major rally in University City this evening with Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, but it’s also the Homecoming Dance at the high school, and I promised to drive kids to the diner afterwards.

Sunday afternoon: Anne and I report to the campaign office for canvassing. I get a replacement Hillary sign, plus new signs for our candidate for U.S. Senate, Katie McGinty. She’s trying to unseat the Republican Pat Toomey. He’s remained largely silent on the subject of Donald Trump, hoping to play both sides of the fence in a divided state.

The canvassing script is different today from last week’s. It’s all about voter turnout now. Do you know where your polling place is? Do you have a plan to get there on November 8th? If you’re voting for the first time with this address, don’t forget to take your ID.

The neighborhood is also very different from last week’s. Ridley Township is adjacent to Swarthmore, and the neighborhood we’ve been assigned to is only 2 miles (3 km) from my house. However, it appears we’ve wandered into Trump Country. It’s a working class area with modest, mostly well-kept homes. Lots of pickup trucks in driveways, kids’ toys on porches, and Trump/Pence signs on lawns. Make America great again. Many other lawns have signs saying “We support our police.” That may seem innocuous, but, in the current political climate, it implies a racist, Trumpian sentiment.

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It’s another beautiful fall day, but Anne begins to get nervous when she realizes she’s parked her car (with its Hillary bumper sticker) across the street from the Milmont Republican Club. We’re walking along behind the shops, bars and other small businesses that face busy MacDade Boulevard. Outside one of them (a bar? a barbershop?), some guy asks what we’re doing and we tell him. Ten seconds later, through the open back door of the establishment, someone yells, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood! Hillary belongs in jail!” Then chants of “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” OK, so maybe that wasn’t the ideal parking spot after all…

canvassing-mapAs always, we’re targeting registered Democrats, and there are more of them here than the lawn signs would suggest. Who are they? Well, again, many of them aren’t home. Many are young people, students, living with their Republican parents.

The neighborhood is overwhelmingly white, but there’s a black family with freshly-installed solar panels on their roof, a grandmother from India who doesn’t speak English, a couple of Latinas with small children. There’s also a teacher caring for her sick husband and a normal American family whose driveway is covered with their kids’ chalk drawings. We’re happy to be able to tell them that they’re not the only Hillary supporters in the neighborhood.

Progress is faster than in the more spread-out neighborhoods of Wallingford, but evening is coming on. We pause to admire the late afternoon sunshine on the fall foliage. Then it seems to get very dark very quickly, and we decide to call it quits. By my count, we knocked on 46 doors. We breathe a sigh of relief as we pull into the town center of Swarthmore.

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