Canvassing for Candidates… Here’s How

At MWR we have kept to our weekly one story/one call to action strategy until recently. Why? We think the ongoing Kavanaugh nomination requires continuous attention AND we want to help you focus on the election. So please excuse our double-barreled approach. We will stop as soon as we can!

As you probably know already, the Kavanaugh story is far from over. The blockbuster allegations of sexual assault that became public this weekend have upended the Republican game plan. We all need to weigh in. The undecided Senators are mostly still undecided, so call again or call for the first time. Keep it simple, keep it polite, but make it clear. Delay the vote on the nomination until the allegations have been fully investigated. And keep advocating for defeating the nomination. These are the only acceptable outcomes.

Meanwhile, the days are getting shorter, all the primaries are over, and the election is getting closer. The election work we do now will make or break our chances to stop Republican enabling of Donald Trump. Here we share what we’ve been learning about canvassing – walking the streets for the candidate of your choice. It’s the most powerful campaign strategy we have, one that can be a little intimidating, but is actually far easier than you may think.

Our lessons come from work on a Congressional campaign outside our own, but they are easily translated into a hometown effort or a state legislative race.

Canvassing brings representatives from the candidate to the homes of voters and brings the election down to earth.  Voters feel valued when real people put in time and make an effort on behalf of the campaign. Simply showing up on voter doorsteps is an important part of the candidate’s message.

 Campaigns are sending you out to talk to registered Democrats and Independents! While you may encounter a Republican or two, the goal of canvassing is not to convince the opposition, but to motivate potential supporters to get out and vote.   You may find folks who are indifferent, but chances are you won’t find yourself facing a Trump supporter.  If you do, smile, share your thoughts (or not), and politely walk on.

 Most canvassing takes place during the week between 5:00 p.m. and sunset and on weekend days between 10:00 a.m.  and 3:00 p.m. Figure out when you can volunteer and put in as many shifts as you can realistically handle.  Try to do more than one so you can enjoy the benefits of all the learning from your first shift.

Step One: Make direct contact with your candidate’s campaign office.   

We found that this required a little more persistence than we thought it would.  We went to the campaign website and clicked on the button for volunteering to canvass.  We filled in the info requested – name, email and zip code – but didn’t hear back.  A week later, we sent an email to info@candidate’s name.  We also left a message on the phone number at the bottom of the home page. No immediate response.  We wondered about the campaign organization, but we weren’t going to let those concerns keep us out of the game.

 The next stop was checking out SwingLeft.  We put in our state’s name and our zip code and were connected to the Congressional district closest to us with the best chance of flipping from R to D.  We were immediately connected to info on the next canvassing event.  We signed up from the SwingLeft website and got a confirming email about when and where.  A few days later we got a return call from the phone message left with the candidate’s campaign.  If the campaign you want to help is a state legislative race, you’ll want to contact the campaign and Flippable.

Lesson learned: Make simultaneous contact with the local campaign and the national organizers. We don’t have time to lose.

Step Two:  Prepare 

It’s a good idea to read or re-read your candidate’s website so you have some info on what they stand for.  Occasionally you’ll find a voter who wants to know.

 When it’s time to head out for your canvassing shift, pack a light weight backpack or shoulder bag that has what you need for a few hours away from home and shops. Make sure to include plenty of water, snacks and weather appropriate clothing.  A sun hat is a necessity if the weather is good.  Wear comfortable shoes!  You will be on your feet walking for a few hours.  A clipboard makes note taking easier.  Finally, take advantage of bathroom facilities just before you head out of the campaign office.

 Step Three:  Show Up and Get Instructions for Your Assignment

When you arrive at the campaign office, odds are good that they will already have canvassing packets assembled.  Typically, this includes a script for what to say, a list of names and addresses and places to record information about your “visit” along with instructions, campaign materials and a map of the neighborhood you are being sent to.  If this is your first-time canvassing, make sure you ask the volunteer coordinator to walk you through exactly what they want you to do.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  You are helping them!

 Step Four:  Hit the Streets

The first few contacts are likely to be clumsy.  You may not have your materials organized, you may not have a sense of the flow of conversation that is recommended, you may forget to ask the questions that the campaign wants answers to, you may not have a good response to an unexpected turn of conversation.  Relax.  It will get easier and you can’t get better without practice.  It will be easy once you know how.  That’s a promise!  What’s important is that you are out there making contact and encouraging your neighbors to get involved.  By the time you do your second shift you will be a pro.

 Step Five:  Return Your Report and Sign up for Another Shift

Campaigns need the information you’ve learned – people who’ve moved, people who might want to volunteer, whether people are interested or not.  You are setting the stage for the final get out the vote effort, so good intel matters.  Plan on the fact that you need to report back.

 Do as many shifts as you can.  Door to door is the best campaign strategy we have.

 DON’T FORGET!  Keep up the pressure on the Kavanaugh Nomination

You can re-read last week’s MWR to be reminded of all the previous reasons to oppose the Kavanaugh nomination in addition to the current allegations. Pick what matters most to you, decide who you want to call, and leave a few more messages. Last week’s MWR has all the phone numbers as well.