Lera-Ann doesn’t know whom she’ll vote for Tuesday—but she does know she’s about to lose her house.
Lera-Ann answered the doorbell at her Townsend Avenue home Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t a fireman telling her to evacuate her house for Superstorm Sandy. It wasn’t a marshal delivering another registered letter about her underwater mortgage.
It was Jessica Holmes. A member of “Team Murphy.” Asking her how she plans to vote this Tuesday.
On that day, Democrat Chris Murphy goes up against Republican Linda McMahon in an election for Connecticut’s open U.S. Senate seat. Commercials about the race, not the most polite of messages, have been bombarding voters about that race for weeks now.
On Sunday, both campaigns sent teams of canvassers throughout New Haven to knock on doors like Lera-Ann’s. It was supposed to be a “Thank You” and “Do you need a ride to the polls?” day.
After months of phone-banking and data-crunching and door-knocking, both campaigns said they planned to have their canvassers spend Sunday, the last weekend day before the election, focusing on their base. They didn’t go out to change minds. They went out to remind loyal supporters to vote and to make sure they would be able to make it to the polls. (Click here for the statewide picture from Christine Stuart.)
“No more persuasion,” State Rep. Roland Lemar (pictured) instructed a crowded living room full of volunteers from a group called the Hilltop Brigade. For weeks they have received flyers and voter lists in Lemar’s home, then fanned out across the city for the joint Democratic ticket of Barack Obama, Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. By the end of Sunday the group would have knocked on 8,000 city doors, according to Lemar.
“We’ve had some tough conversations. We’ve had some awful conversations. Today are great conversations. ...
“The final act of a winning campaign looks like, ‘Thank you.’”
That may have been the case in other parts of New Haven, ultra-blue Democratic strongholds where most voters have made up their minds.
It wasn’t the case for either campaign in Morris Cove, the eastern shoreline neighborhood that may now mostly register Democratic like the rest of New Haven, but where the last redoubt of conservative politics and Republican leanings remain. Canvassers found themselves as likely to encounter “undecided” voters—meaning people who either haven’t made up their minds or were too polite to admit they will vote for the other team—as they were to track down their base.
That was the case over on Cove Street, by the harbor and Lighthouse Point Park in Morris Cove, as Andrew Ivanchishin (at left in photo) and Marvin McClendon (right) started knocking on doors and handing out flyers.
Their flyers had two people’s names and faces: Murphy (job-killer, voting truant) and McMahon (job-creator). In black neighborhoods, black canvassers hired by the campaign (read about some of them at the bottom of this story) were handing out flyers with President Obama’s picture next to McMahon’s urging people to vote for the two of them. But the Cove is mostly white, and has plenty of Mitt Romney voters. So, as has been pretty much the case statewide, McMahon was steering her own ship, not a party ship. (Or as the CT Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas put it, it was “McMahon Inc. vs. the Democratic coalition.”)
McMahon canvassers have been hitting New Haven streets for weeks. Campaign spokesman Todd Abrajano said he didn’t have a breakdown for the city, but he estimated that McMahon crews would hit 400,000 doors statewide in the final three days. Like Lemar, he said the main purpose this final weekend was to shore up the base, to hit likely voters.
Ivanchishin kept track of the list on his clipboard while McClendon, the extrovert of the pair, handled the knocking and the schmoozing. When people were home.
It was hard to tell if the list really focused on likely McMahon voters. The canvassers encountered some outright hostility—slammed doors—and, in other cases, genuine-seeming “undecided” reactions from voters like Sonia Corolla. (Click on the play arrow at the top of this story to watch some highlights.)
“To be honest with you, I don’t like any of them. Maybe by Tuesday I’ll figure it out,” Corolla said cheerfully up on a second-floor landing.
McClendon didn’t try to pitch McMahon, but he did give Corolla a flyer. Then he jumped away as a barking dog rushed the door. It was a steep climb down. Corolla assured him the dog wouldn’t bother him.
Back on the street, McClendon spoke enthusiastically about how McMahon worked her way up from bankruptcy to succeed in business. He’d like to work his way up, too. He hasn’t had work for a year. A 46-year-old union mason, he last worked on the construction of Yale’s towering new health plan building in the Dixwell neighborhood. He’s proud of that job.
“I cut every brick in that building,” McClendon said. “I was the saw man.
“It was the most difficult building you ever wanted to work on. Half the work was coming from the top down, laying brick. Yale wants to be different.”
McClendon insisted that he works as a volunteer for McMahon. He said he learned about the campaign when a canvasser came to his door. “Linda McMahon knows the struggle!” he said.
Ivanchishin, 25 and an archeologist by trade, has been out of work, too. After a while he admitted he does get paid “a little money” for canvassing (a “paid Intern” in McMahon campaign lingo). “I told them I’m an archeologist, and it’s cold,” he said. He said he does support McMahon. He met her at the North Haven headquarters, he said. “She so sweet. She’s the sweetest lady.”
It took about half an hour, but the pair did finally come across a McMahon voter. The voter wasn’t on their lists.
Rather, a pair of passing Murphy canvassers—the second such pair McClendon and Ivanchishin encountered in the Cove in the space of 15 minutes—pointed the way.
“They’re going to vote for you,” one of the Murphy canvassers, Katie Poynter, remarked, pointing to a house on Townsend Avenue.
Bill Grego, a 65-year-old retiree, lives in that house with his 95-year-old mother. He’s been a registered Democrat (family obligation)—and loyal Republican voter—since he was 18, he said. He confirmed to the McMahon canvassers that he’s voting for Romney and McMahon. He feels a bit “mixed” about McMahon because she “came out for pro-choice.” But she definitely beats Murphy in his view, he said.
Soon the pair found another home of staunch Romney-McMahon voters, the Forgiones.
“No Obama for me!” Alfonse Forgione told McClendon.
“OK,” McClendon responded cheerfully.
A few blocks away, a third pair of Cove-walking Murphy canvassers were encountering their own unpredictable responses from the voter list on their clipboard.
One of them, Jessica Holmes (pictured), had expected to canvas the East Rock neighborhood, which abuts Yale and which she represents as an alderwoman. She’s used to feeling the Obama-Murphy-DeLauro love over there. Holmes got a crash course in East Shore politics Sunday, where one voter informed her that she’s “a petunia in an onion patch.”
“I think she meant an onion in a petunia patch,” Holmes concluded.
Holmes patiently gave the Murphy pitch to one Morris Cove Road man who politely declared himself undecided—while emitting some decidedly Republican vibes. “I’ve heard enough,” he said. Holmes agreed—then managed to get in a pitch for Murphy as the working people’s candidate.
At Lera-Ann’s cracked-open door around the corner, a dog from somewhere inside competed mightily against Holmes in the volume department. (Click on the other video at the top of this story to watch highlights.)
“I don’t know who I’m gong to vote for,” Lera-Ann informed Holmes.
“Really? OK. Can I give you my two cents for Chris Murphy?” Holmes began. “I feel like he’s going to be the close one here.”
“I don’t want Linda. I think she’s trying to buy her way in,” Lera-Ann told her.
But she wasn’t committing to Murphy. Not even to get Holmes to leave.
“I think this campaign has gotten really negative,” Holmes persevered, politely. “It has made it hard to see what the issues are. Chris Murphy, he’s actually done a really good job working for middle-class people.” She told Lera-Ann about a Murphy-sponsored “Buy American Act “mandating the people who buy things for the Department of Defense buy things that are made in America. Those are the things that are going to help regular people get manufacturing jobs in the states”
“I’m in foreclosure,” Lera-Ann responded. “You’re talking to somebody who’s getting ready to lose their house.”
Holmes absorbed that news without missing a beat.
“I’m sorry to hear that. These are hard times,” she offered. Then she offered that she has an “underwater” condo in New Jersey that she’s paying for without living in.
“I’ve lived here 16 years,” Lera-Ann said. “I’m gonna lose it. ...”
“I hear that it’s a hard time,” Holmes continued. “I feel like if we give it up to Republicans, we know that people who are in foreclosure ... They’re not going to get the support that they need. If we have a Democratic Senate, though, and if we have President Obama again, I know we’ve got a shot ...”
“I’ve hired a lawyer ...”
Lera-Ann wasn’t angry with Holmes. But she was talking about her foreclosure, not about the election.
“All right. Take care,” she said. She offered a flyer, then pressed on.