Canvassing reaches out to local voters

Connor Guy

issue5illustrationpoliticsstudentcanvassingvaronin.JPGAmidst this year’s attention-grabbing presidential election, Whitman students have been walking around Walla Walla with clipboards, trying to influence voters. When a race is close, like the Washington State gubernatorial election, in which both candidates are in a dead heat with 48 percent of the votes each, the strategy of choice for political activists is a process called “canvassing.””All the political experts say that canvassing is the number one way to connect with voters,” said Norm Osterman, Walla Walla Democratic Party Canvassing Co-Chair. “With canvassing, you have about a one in 14 chance of swaying voters. With phoning it’s one in 300, and with a newspaper ad, it’s about one in 1,000.”Aside from its effectiveness, another part of the reason that people canvass during important elections like this one is because the other side is also doing it.”If one of the candidates stopped all canvassing operations, he would lose. That’s why we do it,” said Whitman Young Democrats President Clara Van Eck.Rachel Hoar, a first-year who canvassed with the Walla Walla Democratic Party, explained how the process works.”I went up and down streets, knocking on the doors of households which had been labeled ‘Leaning Democrat’ or ‘Undecided.’ Our purpose was to give people information to help them be better informed on the issues in the upcoming election, and to learn which way they were leaning,” she said.The Walla Walla Democratic Party, with the support of the Whitman Young Democrats club, has worked to promote the Democratic candidates for the different races pertinent to Walla Walla. These include presidential candidate Barack Obama, incumbent Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, incumbent 16th district State Representative Bill Grant and Mark Mays, who is running for Congress.The corresponding Republican candidates are presidential hopeful John McCain, gubernatorial contender Dino Rossi, Nathan Brook, who is running for State Representative and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is running for re-election to Congress.Campus Conservatives is currently considering the possibility of canvassing for these candidates, but has not yet decided whether or not they will participate.Canvassing participation has been particularly high this year, especially among Whitman students. This is partially because of the presidential race.”This year, participation in canvassing has really exceeded our wildest expectations,” said Osterman. “People who’ve been here for years are saying that this is the biggest canvassing effort they’ve seen.”Osterman also noticed that, even when compared to efforts made during previous presidential races, this year’s participation has been remarkable.”It’s because there’s so much enthusiasm for Barack Obama,” he said.Participating students, like first-year Heather Smith, who canvassed for Obama, encountered minimal resistance.”Most of the people I talked to seemed to have made up their minds one way or the other…and several were pretty clear about letting me know if it wasn’t for Obama,” she said.Hoar also encountered these people.”Although most people were polite when they answered the door, a few were abrasive,” she said. “But I mean, when some strange girl arrives on your porch asking you questions, how would you feel?”