MORGANTOWN,W.Va. – Sometimes a knock on the door is all it takes to win a presidential election,at least that's what campaign volunteers and officials are saying.
With two weeks until Election Day,volunteers for both major presidential contenders are going door to door to discuss issues and rally as many votes as possible for their candidate. The technique,known as neighborhood canvassing,is being used nationwide,especially in swing states.
“It really puts a face on the campaign,” said Martin Dunlap,37,a University of West Virginia library employee and a volunteer for the Kerry campaign here. “People have the chance to get some answers to their questions or find out where to go.”
George Cicci,who owns a multi-media production company,is a 31-year-old undecided voter. One of the many issues on his mind last weekend was the candidates’ stance on third-trimester and partial-birth abortions.
Dunlap and Melissa Giggenbach,31,a Morgantown stay-at-home mother,knocked on Cicci's door Saturday during a neighborhood canvass. They told him that third-trimester abortion is illegal unless the mother’s health is in danger. After informing him that Kerry voted against a bill to make partial-birth abortion illegal because it didn’t contain a similar exemption,they told him where to find additional information.
Although Cicci didn’t make up his mind,he said,”I like having the opportunity to ask local representatives questions. It's definitely given me a direction to look a little further.”
A recent study found that encounters like the one between Cicci and the Kerry volunteers can be effective.
David King,research director at Harvard University's Institute of Politics,studied the effectiveness of face-to-face voter contact.
The findings,released in August,said of 100 registered voters,18 who otherwise would not have voted did so after a personal appeal by campaign representatives. Phone calls were less effective,convincing about three more people to vote,and campaign literature added one voter.
A spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign agreed that the personal touch can trump the technology of advertising or Internet contacts.
“The amazing thing about technology today is that it has taken us back to the root of politics,which is grassroots,” said Jennifer Millerwise. “We think the personal contact neighbor-to-neighbor,family-to-family,has a real impact. It demonstrates that people care enough to give up their time and effort to campaign for the president.”
The door-to-door technique also gives volunteers and the campaign an idea about who is supporting their candidate,who isn't and who hasn't decided.
But campaign volunteers don't knock on every door.
Amy Shuler Goodwin,who heads the Kerry campaign in West Virginia,said the “door-to-doors” are planned using lists compiled from voter registration rolls and information gathered from grassroots strategies such as responses to phone bank calls,political events,neighbor identification and past canvasses.
The Bush campaign,which conducted more than 2,000 canvasses nationally last weekend,uses similar techniques,said Christine Iverson,spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee in Washington.
“It's hard-working,old-fashioned,shoe-leather politics,” she said.
The RNC helps local Republican groups organize neighborhood walks and will take charge of its own nationwide walk 72 hours before the election.
“As the chairman of the Republican party often says,the most dangerous place to be on Election Day is between a Republican voter and the voting booth,” she said.
In addition to going door to door rallying votes for President Bush,volunteers will take voters to the polls Nov. 2 if they need a ride.
Even Washington groups are hitting the streets in swing states. “Grassroots works,” said Peter Loge,a political consultant and a volunteer for NEXT,an independent political action committee that supports Kerry.
The organization teamed up with other Washington groups such as the Woman's National Democratic Club and headed to West Virginia to knock on doors with local volunteers.
“What really wins or loses elections is talking to voters,so that's what we're doing,” he said. “All the hired guns in the world can't beat neighbors talking neighbors.”
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire reporter Adam Kealoha Causey also contributed to this story.