Now that the 2018 general election is in Missouri’s history books, it’s time for a report on the doorknockers’ adventures. What better way to know what’s on the mind of the voters than to go door-to-door in behalf of a candidate, meet your neighbors face-to-face, and discuss politics.
There’s no better lesson in democracy. What you learn from these visits can leave you inspired, confounded or discouraged. You come across people who treat their vote as a sacred privilege, you find some who have no clue what the election’s about, and you encounter people willing to vote a certain way on the flimsiest of pretenses.
For some voters, their political pulse beats strong. Others are brain dead.
In an election campaign, the canvassers are the infantry–foot soldiers marching to measure support, round up votes, secure commitments and encourage turnout. Judy and I went on four such excursions on behalf of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill on the evenings of July 2, July 9, Oct. 15, and Nov. 5.
Our work was focused in Boone County, the home of Claire’s opponent, Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley.
The campaign issued us clipboards and lists of voters to visit in Columbia neighborhoods, probably 50 or so houses each time. The neighborhoods we visited had streets with names like Audubon Drive, Sudbury Drive, Torrey Pines Drive and Clark Lane. We went to mobile homes in trailer courts and houses with back yards on golf course fairways.
We were asked to pass out literature and record the impressions of the people we visited. Were they for or against Claire, undecided, strong Democrat or strong Republican?
Our visits took place late in the day, usually between 4 and 6 p.m., a time to find people home from work but before the sun went down. Many times when we rang on doorbells or knocked, our approaches went unanswered.
Some people who did answer the door said they were going to vote for her, some were undecided, and some were against her. Often times these encounters were brief. People are busy, fixing supper, watching Netflix, putting the kids to bed.
But there were times when folks were willing to have extended discussions about their political views. One woman who said she worked at McDonald’s told Judy she would never vote for Hawley. “He’s a liar, just like Trump,” the woman said.
On the eve of the election, Judy encountered two disabled young men who told her they thought the election was over. She said, “No, it is tomorrow. You still have time to vote.”
Sometimes people in wheelchairs answered the door. An elderly woman told me she would vote Democrat as she had all her life.
Once I was attacked by a large dog on the porch of a mobile home. I turned to avoid the lunging jaws, and the owner wrestled the animal back into the trailer home. The owner was not a registered voter.
We came away with the belief that our canvassing did some good. In an age of misleading television commercials and social media misinformation, one-on-one engagement with our neighbors provided some badly-needed authenticity. And in the end, while the state elected Hawley, his neighbors in Boone County went overwhelmingly for Sen. McCaskill, 56 percent to 41 percent.
After graduating from college, McCaskill served in the state House, was the Jackson County prosecutor, and then served as state auditor. During her 12 years in the U.S. Senate she challenged the pharmaceutical companies who were behind the opioid crisis, she defended Social Security, and worked to protect health care, especially for people with pre-existing conditions.
She took on the U.S. military, attacking wasteful spending and reforming the way sexual assaults on women were investigated and prosecuted in all of the service branches.
McCaskill opposed the earmarking process, the wasteful pork barrel Congressional spending system. She played a big role in the demise of that system, which was probably something that earned her some enemies. Now 65 years old, she will leave with no public buildings or bridges named after her.
But she did work to find money to help preserve the old iron railroad suspension bridge over the Missouri River at Boonville. Already a significant engineering attraction, the bridge will bring tourists to Boonville and Cooper County once it’s opened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. But Cooper County voted for Hawley, 38, who never completed a term of office.
The 2018 election results could be summed up in a remark I heard from a female voter I met on the doorstep of her home on a street called Woodrail on the Green.
“Claire’s real smart and she’s done a lot of good for Missouri,” the woman said. “But I think it’s time for a change.”