Canvassing Close to Home
by Peter Shelton
Sep 23, 2008 | 665 views | 1 1 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

So, I’m canvassing a Montrose neighborhood for the Colorado Democratic Party looking to talk with unaffiliated voters about the contests in November. It’s a beautiful Saturday – shirtsleeve weather with a distant thunderstorm brewing. A couple of camo’d guys are garaging their ATVs after a morning black-powder hunt. Kids meander on BMX bikes when they’re not stopped to talk on their cell phones. I’m thinking: This is cool. Colorado is a swing state this year. Voters who identify themselves as neither Republicans nor Democrats may make the difference. I’m going to learn something today about how people are thinking.

Out of my list of maybe 50 names – 50 doors to knock on – five are at home and actually open the door and talk with me. One explains her lack of knowledge about the candidates by telling me, “I’m a single mom. I don’t even have time to watch TV. I’ll see what they say as the election gets closer. Then I’ll make up my mind. I really can’t say. No. No preference either way.”

A plastic tricycle is tipped over in the yard, and the woman’s dog will not obey her commands to stop jumping up on me. I offer brochures on Senate candidates Mark Udall and Ken Salazar (I don’t have any Obama literature, though we do talk about the presidential race), but she is too flustered to take anything.

How can this be, I marvel walking away, that a working person out in the world today cannot have formed opinions about John McCain and Barack Obama? Udall? Salazar? OK, if you’re not very politically engaged. But Obama and McCain? How is this possible? And then I ring the bell on a neat, newly-built house and encounter another one.

This guy will not give me a single hint about his leanings. In fact, he’s aggressively noncommittal. He’s got a spike like a spear point coming out of his lower lip and dark tattoos ringing his biceps. He has voted in the past or he wouldn’t be on the list I was given. Maybe, as a man in his late twenties, he was considered a possible vote for Democratic candidates. Whatever. He isn’t about to give or receive anything – he seemed to be retreating the moment he opened the door – and moves with suspicious eyes back into the cave of his living room.

The next man does have opinions he’s happy to share. He is retired (moved over from the Front Range), wearing a paint-spattered T-shirt, and jovial enough in his condemnation of everyone and everything. Salazar? “What’s he done? When has he ever not voted with Nancy Pelosi?” (I refrain from pointing out that Ms. Pelosi is the Speaker of the House, while Mr. Salazar is a Senator, but never mind.) Mark Udall? “He’s from Boulder! That tells you all you need to know right there.” We do agree on one thing: “We’re spending money we don’t have,” he says soberly. “Try that at home! Ha! It’s the kids and grandkids who will suffer.”

The worst is a guy who keeps me listening on his front stoop for a good 20 minutes. I like him. He’s my age. He wears suspenders and a plaid shirt. And he’s worked hard, physically, outside, most of his life. But his story begins warping right away. “One thing I know for certain,” he says, “we are going to war. You gotta use your cowboy logic. You stand behind a horse, what’s gonna happen? Right, you’re gonna get kicked. Obama is too wishy-washy. McCain will answer a question yes or no. I’ve never heard Obama answer a question yes or no. He’ll let them hit us first. Iran. Then they’ll be joined by Syria, Egypt, Russia – all the countries over there.”

War with Russia? I ask. “They don’t care.” I stammer: Nuclear war? He just shrugs. Then he starts up again, and I finally get it. “The Book of Revelation says ‘They will need 20 years to bury their dead.’ The Twin Towers, how long did it take them to find everybody there?” So that was it – the Christian end days. He does say, though, that he is planning to vote, for McCain/Palin. Does this mean he has some optimism left, some doubt?

Thank god for my last lady. She is 92 and has a sticker on her door instructing the EMTs to look in her fridge for medical information. But she seems younger than that, and she greets me with a crinkly smile. She has already arranged to receive a mail-in ballot. And of course, she says, she will be voting for Barack Obama. And Udall. And Salazar.

I must look shocked because she reaches out to touch my arm with a frail, graceful hand. “I’m a Democrat, really,” she says. “Oh, and we must have hope. Yes. Let’s hope.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
September 25, 2008
Enjoyed the piece, Peter.

I've been canvassing in Ouray County for a few weeks. It really is fascinating to talk to people about the elections.

Most people are fairly nice and at least mildly coherent, but some of them seem to have broken free from their orbits long ago and are just spiraling into the abyss.

I know this subject has been beaten into the ground, but if one more person looks me in the eye and says they like Sarah Palin because she's a regular person, I will club them to death with a moose rib.