Out of Left Field
A Weekend on the Road with Howard Dean Groupies
Rounding up voters for
surprising Howard Dean
By STAN ISAACS
The Jersey Trio in the Dean Machine--a Chrysler van--rolled out of southern New Jersey the first weekend in August for two days of canvassing in New Hampshire for Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean.
It was a more than 7-hour trip. As they rolled on they talked about music and politics, movies and politics, food and politics, baseball and politics. Tooling through Massachusetts, one spotted a car with New Hampshire license plates. Dean em one of them said. Another flashed a large Dean sign outside the window. Sometimes they got a smile, as often a quizzical look from the other car.
The Jersey Trio, three young people filled with ideals and hopes, were:
*Laura Reznick, a 19-year-old political science junkie from Voorhees, a computer whizbang who is entering American University this month, a beautiful young woman who speaks so quickly and fervently a listener has to pay close attention to keep up.
*Scott Goldstein, an 18-year old political science major frm Marlton, also entering American U., who plays drums, teaches karate and has written the book, E2K: the story of the election of 2,000 and its impact on Americas youth. The online book can be obtained from the website address: booksurge.com.
*Matt Davis, a curly-headed, lean 20-year-old Columbia U. sophomore majoring in history. He is affable, extremely bright. He had taken off from his summer job as a waiter to work full time as the unpaid Philadelphia point man for the Dean campaign. His favorite words are cool and awesome.
Joined by Lauras grandparents on Long Island, they rolled up New Jersey, through New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts before zipping onto route 93 in New Hampshire. Intent on the mission ahead, they neglected to check the gas gauge, and disaster loomed in the form of a warning that their gas was running out as they approached Concord. They nursed the car a few miles, got off the highway and cheered with relief as they spotted a gas station at the end of the exit road. Later they would find out that this was the officially named The Famous Bow Mobil gas station, a name that had been designated the winner of the contest conceived by the owners of the Bow, N.H. gas station.
There were some 20 volunteers, most from New York this Saturday morning, at the Dean storefront headquarters on Pleasant Street off the main drag in Concord. Almost all were in their late teens or early 20s. Ready to assault the good burghers of Concord, the state capital, they were given marching orders by Alex Lee, a lawyer from Brookline, Mass who heads the office.
The canvassers carried Dean literature that outlined his positions on health care for everyone, a balanced budget and sound economy, homeland security and strength abroad and safeguarding the environment. The flyer asked people to contact the office to find out more about Howard Dean, M.D. Though Deans opposition to President Bushs war policies fuels most volunteer support, the flyer did not mention this.
Each canvasser was given a map of a neighborhood in Concord with the names of registered voters who were either Democrats or Unaligned. They were instructed to find out and record if the citizens knew of Dean; if they had any preferences in the race; and what issues were important to them. Dont ever argue with them, they were told, and dont disrespect any of the other Democratic candidates.
The canvassers averaged some 75 names on each foray. They found that most of the people they talked to hadnt been paying attention to the political race yet, were somewhat apologetic about it, and promised to read the literature. Sometimes they hit a Republican, who told them, mostly politely, that they werent interested. Most discouraging was the large numbers of people who were not home. The volunteers would leave literature in the door and move on.
Laura saw a woman whose son was in the marines and was unhappy with Bush for two reasons. She didnt think he was being honest about our reasons for getting into the war in Iraq and she didnt like his mixing religion with politics.
Scott, who has had three operations on his shoulder from skiing accidents, was impressed with a woman who had had back surgery and got out of her wheelchair to talk to him of her concerns about medicare.
Matt was invited in one house to sit with a woman who told him about her concerns: she had no health insurance and her two adult children had lost their jobs and didnt have any benefits. Like many of the residents she said she had no preference at this point but would vote for any Democrat over Bush.
Matt was almost ushered out of the house of one Republican who pointed to his trashcan on the curb and told Matt he could throw his literature there. Another Republican told a volunteer the Democrats were baby killers.
Another canvasser was impressed by a director of a facility for the mentally disabled who said, The Democrats have abandoned us. When he got no argument from the volunteers, he admitted he was quite familiar with Dean and was leaning toward him.
The canvassers were put up at local homes. The Jersey Trio bedded down at the comfortable home in suburban Bow of Tim and Pam Neville. He is an assistant principal, she a court administrator; both were extremely gracious and welcoming. Their son Carter, a mature 17-year-old high school senior, and demon soccer player, shepherded the Jersey Trio for much of the weekend.
Back out on the streets Sunday, the volunteers ran across people distributing literature for Dick Gephardt, a rival contender. The canvassers came back to the office on Pleasant Street cluttered with Dean literature, maps and favorable newspaper articles and editorials. And this sign: To err is human; to really foul things up, you need a computer.
They wrote follow-up post cards to the people they had talked to. Office head Lee told them, Dont be discouraged by the number of people who werent home. The literature you dropped off saves on postage costs and we get a more updated and accurate list of people we should be contacting.
Spirits were high because it had been a good week for Dean. He was ahead in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and was on the covers of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News. Carter Neville and Trevor Haskell, a worker from the U. of California, Berkeley, had boundless optimism. An older head listened in silent wonder as they declared that a Dean victory in New Hampshire over John Kerry in January would eliminate Kerry and make Dean unstoppable from winning the nomination.
The Jersey Trio spent a second night with the Nevilles, then hit the road. The Dean Machine rolled through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and by nightfall into New Jersey. They Deaned New Hampshire-plate cars and chortled when they spotted and greeted another car with a Dean bumper sticker.
©2003 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel.
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