Embedded, Day 5: End Times
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog editor Lydia DePillis is finally back from Kentucky, with one last report.
LOUISVILLE, Ky.–The day Kentucky democrats had been awaiting for over four years dawned bright and cold. A poll the night before had their candidate up 29 points, with most other ticket members leading by similar margins.
But election day is about bodies–on the street, on the phones, at the polls–and the Louisville campaign came in sadly short on that count. They’d managed to recruit only 160 volunteers instead of their expected 400, and so the Columbia Dems arrived in Louisville (the biggest city in Kentucky, and a union stronghold) at about 9:30 AM, ready to roust the elderly out of their beds and to their polling places.
For the duration of their time in Frankfort, the Dems had politely butted heads with the campaign’s field staff, and complained in private about their incompetence: the woman in charge sent canvassers to areas that had already been covered, kept the group waiting for hours, and generally micromanaged where the students were used to autonomy. “Its embarrassing for us to watch,” said Dems board member Kate Redburn, CC ’10.
One of the staffers also asked non-traditional student Jake Matilsky, GS ’09, to ferry a large box of whiskey to a consultant in Louisville, noting that she’d “never work in politics again” if it didn’t arrive safely.
“I felt like there was a trust thing between her and the e-board,” Matilsky said.
This time, the activists weren’t bound by the instructions of the Frankfort field staff, and the sense of relief was obvious.
“We are allowed to canvass how we damn well please,” trip organizer Mara Richard, BC 09, told her van of doorknockers. “You’re going to go as fast as humanly possible today.”
I tailed a squad of students as they fanned out into District 6 to demand whether their target voters—all over 65, all with Democratic tendencies—had gotten to the polls yet. This group’s list included a block of apartment houses, accessible only via intercom, producing call sequences like this:
“Hi, my name is Annie, and I’m with the Beshear for Governor campaign, and I was wondering whether you had had a chance to vote yet?”
Their various responses, uttered in quavery static:
“Who is this?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“I’m not going to vote. I’m a old woman, I’m not able.”
“Honey, I can’t understand you.”
“I’m going to go after I do my volunteer work.”
At one point a bent old lady came out to mail a letter, looking terrified to see five strapping young people towering over her in the foyer. She quickly slid her envelope into the box without saying a word, never letting most of her body outside the door. At the end of the round of calls, no one needed a ride to the polls.
That held true for much of the rest of the day: according to Samia Zaidi, BC ’10, most of the Louisvillians they reached had either already voted or were on their way to the polls, and only a handful of seniors took up the offer of a ride. The other activity, “Visibility,”—jumping up and down on street corners with campaign signs—has less tangible rewards. But they kept it up until the very last hour, and were phone banking from their cell phones even as the vans rolled away.
Riding back in the dark, we heard reports from the radio: with two percent of precincts reporting, it was Beshear by over 50%. His lead narrowed as the votes poured in, and finally triumphed by a comparatively slim 17%, with a lower-than-expected turnout of about 40%. I asked the kids in my van whether they felt like they had made an impact, even with the day spent double-canvassing and the countless hours in a van rather than on the sidewalk (gas came to $1,400 to and from Kentucky, plus an untold amount ferrying 50 people between and around three cities).
If they didn’t, they weren’t telling.
“Every time you talk to a voter, you make a difference,” said Steve Lowenthal, CC ‘11.