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Door-to-Door Campaigning Proves Effective Political Tool - 2004-01-24

Political activists and grassroots politicos are knocking on doors all over New Hampshire, hoping to convince whoever answers to vote for their candidate in Tuesday's primary. Presidential campaigns have used many methods to reach out to voters, including town hall meetings, direct mail marketing, talks shows, and TV commercials.

Still, door-to-door canvassing, where real human beings knock on real doors for some face to face persuading still seems to be the most effective grassroots tool of all.

The temperature outside on a recent Sunday was minus 29 degrees Celsius, but inside Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman's New Hampshire campaign headquarters, the candidate was heating everyone up for the final push in his New Hampshire campaign for President.

"I just want to say 'thank you' but I want you to understand that when you come to that point when you think it's getting so cold, you've knocked on the last door, do me a favor," said Joe Lieberman. "Knock on one more! So my final word is: thank you, God bless you and now, get out of here and go to work!"

Chris Pappas is the deputy field director for Joe Lieberman in New Hampshire, but it's a sure bet that the same detailed city maps that hang on his office walls also hang on the walls of every one of his counterparts in the other six major Democratic campaigns. Mr. Pappas is in charge of sending out the troops and preparing them for what is sometimes a difficult and often awkward mission.

"I think with most things, the first door you go for is the hardest one," he said. "But slowly, after that, once you get the routine down, I think it's a pretty rewarding experience. Because really you can see when you're out there, peoples' minds aren't really totally formed and you can really have an impact on their perceptions of the candidates [and] their willingness to participate in the election."

The first piece of advice Mr. Pappas gives to his canvassers-in-training is to just be conversational.

"You want them to say 'hi, how's it going?' Talk about the weather, try to make a connection outside politics first," said Chris Pappas. "I think voters appreciate that more than just going right in and saying 'Hey! Who are you gonna vote for?' Because a lot of people you meet won't answer that right away. We like to introduce ourselves: 'I am a volunteer with the Lieberman for President campaign.' This script usually leads to 'I am coming round and supporting Joe because and then we name off a few things.'"

One hour later and five blocks away, Jim Diamond, a Connecticut attorney who has been volunteering for the Lieberman campaign for many months, was knocking on yet another front door.

Diamond: "Hi I'm looking for Mr. Grady."

Man:" Speaking."

Diamond: "We're here for Joe Lieberman. We came all the way up from Stamford Connecticut where Joe grew up. We've known him as our Senator and he's a man we think could be terrific president of the United States. Have you given much thought to the race yet?"

Man :"A: Some, not a lot. Just trying to pick through all this stuff."

Diamond: "Yeah? Well, Joe grew up in Stamford. His mom live around the corner from us. We know him from town. He's strong on defense. He's got a record in the Senate for civil rights and for the environment and we think he is the best Democrat who can beat George Bush."

Man: "I am really an independent. If I vote Democratic, I probably will vote for Joe Lieberman."

Diamond: "That's great to hear. Come out for Joe on the 27. We'd really appreciate it. Thanks a lot! Have a great day! "

Mr. Diamond marked an "X" on his tally sheet next to the boxes for "Independent" and "leaning toward Lieberman" next to the man's name. He then crossed the street to a Mrs. Lunt's house, where he had even better luck.

Diamond: "How you doin'? I'm Jim Diamond and I'm here for Joe Lieberman."

Lunt: "Do you wanna come in?"

Diamond: "Sure that would be great."

Ms. Lunt had seen Joe Lieberman at a town hall meeting, and had even glimpsed the senator at the Manchester mall that morning. She says she liked him but…

Lunt: "The only thing is, when they get into office, they don't always keep their promises."

Diamond: "That's true. That true. We agree. Joe Lieberman looks you in the eye and he tells you what he believes and he tells you the same thing yesterday that he'll tell you today and he'll tell you tomorrow. He doesn't change his mind depending on who he's talking to."

Lunt: "I know one thing. This country needs to replace George Bush. I have a son who is autistic, and they always cut programs for the disabled and the elderly."

Diamond: "You think you'll be supporting us on the 27th?"

Lunt:"Yes. I'm strongly leaning towards that. I'm making up my mind."

Diamond: "Thanks so much. Nice meeting you, have a great Sunday, take care."

The rest of the frigid afternoon bore mixed results for Jim Diamond. Many people were not home. One man was certain he would vote Republican, and two others refused to open their doors. Back at headquarters, Chris Pappas always tells his canvassers not to be discouraged.

"You know, it is difficult," he said. "I understand that. It's hard not to take it personally. Someone can swear at you, it can get very difficult out there depending on the audience you are targeting. But you just got to persevere and reach down deep."

The focus of the canvassing effort is changing fast. Between now and Tuesday, canvassers from all the campaigns will be consolidating the support they've already garnered and reminding people to be sure to vote in Tuesday's primary.