COLUMBIA — Many Columbia residents in the run-up to Super Tuesday have been doing more than watching from the sidelines. They’ve been hitting the pavement, knocking on doors, passing out literature and making phone calls, in an attempt to muster as much support as possible for their chosen candidate. Although they may not agree on the next American president, they agree on how best to get him, or her, into office.
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On Jan. 26, social worker and full-time mom Robin LaBrunerie found it was actually sunny enough for sunglasses. After ringing the first couple of doorbells on her list, LaBrunerie returned to her car and fished around for the long-unused accessory. Once found, she placed them squarely on her nose and looked down at the list of registered voters and their respective addresses she held in her hand.
LaBrunerie’s task was to ring each doorbell, ask the voter if he or she planned to go to the polls on Tuesday and tell them about Sen. Barack Obama. To aid in the cause, LaBrunerie brought along her 14-year-old son, August LaBrunerie. Optimistic about getting the word out, the pair trekked up and down the streets near Christian Fellowship School from mid-morning into the afternoon.
Before this year, LaBrunerie had never campaigned for a candidate. Through the Obama campaign Web site, she found the Mid-Missouri for Obama group online, and she and August began attending meetings last summer.
“I’ve never really felt strongly enough for a specific candidate to do this,” LaBrunerie said. “This is putting myself out there by knocking on someone’s door who may not want to talk.”
LaBrunerie joined about 15 others canvassing that day for Obama. The group met in MU’s Memorial Union and heard a brief introduction to the art of canvassing from organizers Chris Zielinski and Glenn Rehn. Wearing “Obama for president” stickers and armed with signs, campaign literature and lists of voters, the canvassers split up to cover different neighborhoods.
LaBrunerie began the day feeling somewhat nervous. She looked over the script provided and murmured it to herself before deciding she would stick to what she felt comfortable saying. She encouraged August, who describes himself as shy, to talk to voters with her. August said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that and instead continued handing out literature.
LaBrunerie said it was Obama’s ideas and character that drew her to him and made her feel it was important to encourage others to vote for him.
“He’s a rare politician that you can support and be proud of,” she said. “He’s a man of integrity.”
LaBrunerie said the rift between Republicans and Democrats is a large problem facing the nation. She said she believes Obama can bridge that divide.
“He finds fundamental things that we all have in common and has the respect of everyone,” she said. “He’s the person who can bring us together and make democracy work.”
As the day wore on, the wind picked up and, though still sunny, there was a chill to the air. None of this stopped LaBrunerie, though. She encouraged August, too.
“Isn’t this better than playing the Wii?” she said.
“Not really,” August said.
“Is it better than homework?” LaBrunerie asked. To that August smiled.
“Actually, it’s really pretty fun,” he said.
On the same day, in a small classroom at the back of the Focus on Learning Center at Tenth and Walnut streets, Hillary Clinton supporters racked up the minutes on their cell phone bills. Surrounded by wood-paneled walls, maps and brightly colored posters proclaiming it was the perfect day to learn something new, campaigners made call after call rallying support for Clinton.
Supporters were free to come and go as they pleased. Kaye King, a longtime Clinton supporter, rushed in at one point, cell phone charger in hand and headed to the nearest outlet. She had been making calls earlier when her phone went dead, prompting the trip home and back to continue campaigning.
The phone bank was one of many organized by Betty Wilson, an attorney, a certified mediator and chairwoman of the Boone County for Hillary Clinton Committee. This event, however, was different. As part of the Women’s Day of Action, supporters of Clinton were urged to bring donations of toiletries for The Shelter for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. The donations were piled up in brightly colored bags and boxes beneath the white board at the front of the room.
Each volunteer brought his or her own phone and was supplied with a script outlining the message for the day: Clinton’s support of issues affecting women and children. Volunteers were also getting the word out about an event occurring later that day: an appearance by former President Bill Clinton in Independence.
Although most said the script was helpful and that they were following it to some extent, a few chose to break away and add a more personal tone.
In his second phone-banking experience, Tim Nelson decided to speak what was on his mind.
“I don’t follow the script,” Nelson said. “It’s right on, but I pick the parts that are important to me, and I try to connect with the voter.”
“I don’t like when it sounds really scripted,” Stephens College student Tina Smith said. “I try and talk about what I feel and why I’m supporting her.”
The reasons why the campaigners showed up are many, but most cite their long-term support of Clinton, and all of them are firmly convinced she would do the best job.
Lara Underwood, an attorney, has supported Clinton since she was the first lady.
“I thought it was great to have a strong first lady and not someone who was going to be making cookies and redecorating,” Underwood said. “She’s someone who knows the system, and she won’t be learning on the job.”
King said her support for Clinton runs deeper than just one woman rooting for another.
“I’m supporting her, not because she’s a woman, but because she’s the most capable person running,” King said. “She’s the smartest rat in the pack.”
The atmosphere was relaxed. Supporters joked with each other and laughed between phone calls. There were frequent comments and some cheers when a caller said they supported Clinton. Each call meant a tally mark in at least one box: Clinton supporter, leaning towards Clinton, supporting another candidate or Republican were among the choices. There was also a box for hang-ups, which supporters said were discouraging but not unexpected.
“After doing this I’ll never hang up on a telemarketer again,” Smith said while laughing. “I’ll just say ‘No thank you’ and that will be that.”
Amid the jokes was an understanding of the importance of the task at hand. These supporters knew they had a big job to do.
“This is a representative democracy, and I want to make sure I’m involved in selecting who is the representative,” King said. For King, that means doing her part to encourage others to see what she sees in Clinton — the next president.
The local Ron Paul headquarters, in the Parkade Center on Business Loop 70, looks brand new. The walls are bright-white with fresh paint, and Paul supporters have made it their own. They’ve hung homemade signs, one made on the back of a Star Wars advertisement, in the windows. They’ve hung banners on the wall adorned with the signatures of voters in support of the candidate. They’ve hung posters of the Pledge of Allegiance and the American flag. The room is filled with signs spray painted silver and announcing the “Ron Paul Revolution,” the letters “evol” set apart in a different color to make it clear that it’s “love” spelled backward.
This grass-roots campaign has been busy. Paul enthusiasts have dropped campaign literature on the doorsteps of people in at least 10 Columbia precincts. They’ve passed out lists of known Paul supporters and their phone numbers as part of a continued effort to call and encourage these people to vote in the primaries. They’ve created and run radio ads and inserted a flier in the latest round of doormail coupons. They’ve hand-painted signs that measure 10 by 40 feet and hung them along the interstate. They’ve done it all on their own. Friday marked the arrival of the first shipment of signs from the national Paul campaign.
Supporters are doing everything they can to get Paul’s name out there. As the group of about 15 discussed where these new signs would be placed, members were busy stamping the money in their wallets with Paul’s name in red ink, the staccato sound of the stamp echoing in the space. They leave literature about Paul’s plan to stop taxing tips along with their stamped money when they tip the wait staff at restaurants. They encourage people to watch YouTube videos and visit Paul’s Web site.
Amy Bremer, chairwoman of the meetup.com group that brought the Paul people together, remains amazed at how few people know their candidate.
“Every day I still hear people say they’ve never heard of him,” Bremer said.
And so they continue to work. Some have known of Paul for more than 20 years. Bremer says he’s the same man he was when he first ran for president.
“You can look up clips of Ron Paul on YouTube from when he ran for president in the 1980s as a Libertarian,” Bremer says. “He sounds exactly the same. He’s just saying to vote what the constitution says.”
Paul’s local fans fiercely contend Paul is the only candidate who can truly help the country. Josh Harvey, a MU student, said he had been talking to his friends about Paul and telling them he’s the best candidate.
“He’s the only guy that has a grasp on the real issues that need to be addressed,” Harvey said. “All the others are just tinkering around.”
Randy Baker, the owner of a small business, agrees.
“I’m voting to save my country; I’m voting for his record in Congress,” Baker said. “He always does what he says he’s going to do.”
After the official meeting was over, most of the supporters joined in an assembly line to drill holes in stacks of fliers, tie rubber bands through them, then stack them up. A group of campaigners was getting together at 3 a.m. to rubber band the literature on the doors of Columbia homes, ensuring their message was waiting when the residents woke.
As they worked they talked, and not only about Paul and the reasons they support him. As they got to know each other, they remained focused on their goal, which Ismail Hameduddin, the Boone County coordinator of the campaign, summed up.
“It’s not just about this election or the person; it’s about the message,” Hameduddin said. “We have to stop the federal government from taking over our lives.”