What it’s Like Canvassing for Hillary Clinton in Nevada
Guest post by Rebecca Griffin
I tense up as the tall gray-haired man wearing grandpa glasses yells to grab our attention and then stands a little too close for comfort. I was with 3 other women outside a Starbucks in Reno wearing Hillary Clinton t-shirts as we got ready to knocks on doors and talk to voters. Outside of my Bay Area bubble, I realize I’m assuming random people (well, white men at least) are Trump supporters until they prove otherwise. I prepare myself for a possible lecture about how we shouldn’t whine about Donald Trump’s tape since we ladies all love reading 50 Shades of Grey so much.
“Where can I get one of those t-shirts?” He tells us he’s been a “champion of Hillary for years,” and we give him one of our purple shirts before we hit the road.
The prospect of either electing a racist, misogynist unhinged sexual predator or making history by finally putting a woman in the White House has Californians pouring into Nevada, a state that regularly flips from red to blue and back again in presidential election years. Nevada offers an opportunity to feel more power than your vote in the foregone conclusion of a race in California allows. It also brings the possibility of seeing if the truly bizarre and vitriolic nature of this election filters down to the neighborhood level. I cut my teeth as an organizer canvassing full-time in friendly and not-so-friendly places talking about issues like the Iraq war and nuclear weapons, so I left behind fear of knocking on strangers’ doors a long time ago. But even nervous newbies who have never canvassed gather at staging locations around the state to pick up clipboards, learn how to properly pronounce Nev-ADD-a and hit the streets.
I arrive in Reno on the first weekend of early voting. Around 60% of Nevadans vote before Election Day, so the last couple of weeks are a critical time for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats to bank votes and get a head start on victory. We’re given lists of people who are infrequent voters likely to support the Democratic slate, or voters with other or no party affiliation that might be receptive to our candidates. One day I’m in a downtown precinct where I walk by an establishment advertising “TOPLESS! TOPLESS! GIRLS! GIRLS!” The next day, I’m in a suburban neighborhood where I see a wild rabbit hop across a voter’s lawn.
There’s a satisfying immediacy to knocking on a door right as someone is filling out their sample ballot. I talk to people not just about Hillary Clinton, but also their State Senate candidate they haven’t been hearing about incessantly for the past 18 months. I get comfortable sounding more like a local when I tell people they can “just head over to the Raley’s on Robb Drive” to cast their ballots. The ground game of the various Democratic campaigns is so robust that at one point I approach a house on my list and find 3 women in Hillary paraphernalia already on the porch. I encounter the exasperation that comes with living in a swing state with the occasional person who ignores your knocks even though you can hear the television, or the empty house that already has a pile of campaign literature strewn in front of the door. But despite the barrage of phone calls and door knocks, there are still many people who thank me for what I’m doing, offer me bottles of water, and ask for my help as they fill out their ballots. As the campaign tells us, we can always let the voters know that the best way to be left alone is to vote now so no one has a reason to call them anymore.
At no point do I see any sign of door knocking by the Trump campaign, no surprise from a campaign that has spent more on hats than polling. But that doesn’t mean his presence isn’t felt. On my first night of walking in a working class neighborhood in downtown Reno, I talk to a middle aged Latina who complains that her brother who lives a couple of blocks away is voting for Trump, and asks me if there’s anything I can think of to say to him. I ask her why he’s supporting Trump, and she says it’s because he’s a Christian, one of the more outlandish reasons for supporting a candidate one could only support for outlandish reasons. We talk as two non-Christians about how un-Christian we find Donald Trump’s behavior. She says her brother watched a documentary about Hillary and now can’t stand her. She contemplates sending me to talk to him, but thinks better of it.
In the suburban neighborhood I walk, Trump signs become much more common. I see the word “pussy” scrawled on the sidewalk in pink chalk and wonder if it’s there because some kid has been hearing the word 20 times a day. As I walk down one cul de sac, a dog on a leash goes crazy barking at me. His owner tries to calm him down, but he won’t stop. When I walk by again, he does the same thing. I see a Trump sign on their lawn and can’t help but feel like somehow the dog knows.
On Sunday, we find out that Democrats had an 18% advantage on the first day of early voting in Washoe County. It’s an even bigger enthusiasm gap than the last time Obama ran, and affirmation that those conversations we had the day before could add up to electoral victory.
Being in Reno was a helpful antidote to sitting and watching in horror as this election unfolds. At one house, I see my list tells me the next voter is a 52-year-old Republican. I knock on the door and a man emerges from the backyard. If you asked me to pick Trump supporters out of a lineup, I probably would have chosen him. I ease into the conversation talking about a local candidate. Then I ask him if he’s decided who he’s voting for for president. He says, “Well, I’m a registered Republican,” and pauses. Then he looks at my shirt and tells me he’s voting for Hillary because he cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump. It was an oasis of sanity in the midst of this insane election cycle, even if just until I knocked on my next door.