13TH SUFFOLK : CAMPAIGNING IN THE DARK, COLD & SNOW

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^ door-knocking alone on a winter cold day ; John O’Toole working Savin Hill’s Grampian Way

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Six men seek the State Representative office that Marty Walsh resigned to become Boston’s Mayor. Since the beginning of January, they’ve ben out and about meeting voters. It’s hard enough to run a race with five rivals on your case. Try doing it in a Boston winter !

If you look closely at the snap of John O’Toole above, you’ll see that he has a voter list in his hand, and a pen. He isn’t just door-knocking. He is seeking out specific doors, at which he is trying to meet a “good voter” — someone who will almost definitely vote in the cold-blast election he is moving toward.

This is campaigning the way one-finger hunt and peck typing is writing.

You HAVE to door-knock. A door here, another door there, two doors on the next street — a lot of walking. With the sun setting at 5 pm — as early as 4.25 pm when January began — by the time that voters get home from work, it’s already dark. Many voters won’t open their door when it’s dark, older voters in particular. The most reliable voters are the older voters. How do you meet them ? OK, you can door-knock older voters on the weekend, in the daytime. Oh wait : only four weekends remain before the March 4th election Tuesday. Five weekends have gone. How many voters can you door-knock, anyway, on a weekend ? If you work seven hours on Saturday and seven on Sunday — Saturday night and Sunday morning aren’t wise times to door-knock — you can knock maybe 120 doors. (In Dorchester, houses are packed so closely together that, at least, you don’t have to walk much to go from one door to an other. it’s all right there for you.) Of those 120 doors, if you’re lucky there’ll be 60 people at home. Nine weekends of 60 voters means you’ve met 540 voters.

But 11,635 13th Suffolk votes were cast in last year’s mayor election…

So let’s say that of the 540 voters you meet, one of four commit to you — 135 votes — and of those, 15 agree to volunteer. The 15 each host you a coffee party, at which you might meet 25 people — of whom some won’t live in your District, while others you’ll already have met. Maybe of the 25 voters in the room, 15 can actually vote and are new to you. Why even bother ? Answer : because maybe 3 of those 15 will volunteer for the campaign, and, just as significant, the house party host, to get 25 people in her living room, will probably have sent out 250 invites, all of which publicize your name.

Of course in winter a snow blast can cancel that houseparty on you.  Oh well…Image

^ speaking intensely to listeners cool : “PJ” McCann at the Columbia/Savin Hill Civic association on a snowy night Monday

During the week, you can only door-knock from 6 pm to 8.30 pm, all of it in the dark. Some houses don’t have street numbers; on many that do have them, the numbers are hard to read in the dark. More time wasted on logistics — but you keep at it, and on each weekday night you can door-knock maybe 80 doors, meet 40 people, commit maybe 20 votes. It does add up, slowly. Each week, if all goes well, you commit 100 votes.

You warm your feet later. On March 5th.

Sounds somewhat good, all this one-at-a-time work : but it isn’t even that good, because every voter you meet is also meeting, or thinking about, your five rivals. Of these voters, only those who actually volunteer for your campaign are your votes for sure. Those who only commit verbally can end up going to one of your rivals. My rule of thumb is that each rival can take ten percent of your committed non-volunteer votes. If this rule of thumb holds, each week you only commit 50 votes on the weekdays and 67 each weekend. By March 4th, that totals 1,053 committed votes that do not go elsewhere.

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^ is going everywhere in a parka enough ? is shivering each snow gust with a hat on ? Dan Hunt intends to find out.

There’s also the weather. Many of the six have campaigned on snow days; but in the snow everything moves more slowly. The only advantage is that more people will actually be at home when you door-knock. You’re happy to have even that advantage, because in this kind of campaign there aren’t many advantages available.

If all goes well — and in campaigns much usually doesn’t — by March 4th you’ll have those 1,053 committed votes plus maybe another 500 who you’ve met here and there, out and about, or who’ve read your literature and like it, or whose best friend is supporting you. So now it’s time to get these 1,553 people actually to vote. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. In a special election, with nothing else happening, if two thirds of your voters vote, you have been graced by the election gods.

And what if there’s a nor’easter on voting day ? Unlike school, elections don’t get canceled. But I digress…

Will that number — 1,036 — be enough to win ? Probably not. In a District as politically attuned as Dorchester, there’ll be a substantial number of voters who vote simply because there’s an election happening; voters whose preferences none of the six knows. As many as 2,500 such voters can do their duty. You had better win a fat portion of them.

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^ warm among friends — but most times, handshaking in snow : Liam Curran says he “will not be out-worked”

My guess is that 1,850 votes wins the race. Maybe less, because as I see it today, there’s two strong candidates and two gaining strength rapidly. Even the fifth candidate is moving vigorously, knows how to campaign, and speaks eloquently about city life. The five candidates could end up winning 1,600 votes, 1,450, 1,350, 1,250, and 1,000 respectively. (The sixth candidate is running on stickers. Who knows how many will be counted ?) That’s a total of 6,650 votes — a large number for a special election in March, but par for the course in a neighborhood as politically energized as Dorchester. Energized by the indomitable campaigning love of those who, like Dorchester pols before them going way, way back, take to the streets, eateries, senior citizens groups, civic association meetings, and house party living rooms in search of elected office.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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