When I signed up last spring for the Ground Game, ground was what I was on: harassing mall crawlers and, in my innocence, registering more Republicans than Democrats; patrolling downtown corners, explaining that the President really doesn’t want to confiscate your gun or nationalize your car dealership; knocking on doors in endless, horizontal suburbs.
My ascent up the canvassing ladder really began when I got more urban and shifted turf to apartment and condo complexes teeming with Obama targets — three-in-a-flat young women; college students; Mexican-Americans; African-Americans; Somali cab drivers; young graduates starting their careers; single mothers.
It was then, on a wicked-hot summer day, that I encountered The 33 Steps, in a pleasant complex with 240 units — 6 units in each of 40 self-contained buildings, each building with 3 floors. If you’ve been paying attention, you know how many steps there were to the top 2 units.
It may be that Obama’s team crunched numbers better than Romney’s. I wasn’t so sure. I hiked the 33 to the top units far more than the 16 it took to the middle ones or the 0 at street-level, in seeming violation of the laws of probability.
I’m not complaining. By Election Day, my thighs were those of a bicycle racer and my lung capacity, an Ethiopian marathoner’s. No improvement in reasoning capacity, however, which may be just as well, since I might have realized that, with an answer-per-knock rate around 20%, and an Obama-favorable rate around 70% of that 20%, a single hooked, but not yet netted, Obama voter cost about 200 steps.
33 Steps was not my only beat. Just down the street was an enormous apartment complex — 9 buildings, none with fewer than 12 apartments per floor, and one with easily 50 on each of its 5 floors, all in open-balcony format. I could have roller-skated to most of my target doors and taken the elevator to roller-skate the next level. Best of all, there were no locked gates, complicated phone-entry devices, or menacing property managers. With a stout heart, a full water-bottle, and about five hours of free time, thoroughly knockable.
Though my end was just, my means were sometimes devious. In buildings with ostensibly locked lobby doors, some weren’t. In better-secured buildings, I could at times ooze in, following heedless kids. Occasionally, residents would breeze out, and the door, swinging lazily shut, would, by chance, catch my foot. Rear entrances were, shockingly, often not as secure as front doors; in one case, I walked past renovators by posing as someone who knew what he was doing.
On a few occasions, tenants cited No Soliciting rules, but it was half-hearted, and, in one instance, a man followed me, not to confront, but to apologize for being rude when he had suggested I should cease and desist.
For all the stair-climbing and the increasingly raw knuckles (too few doorbells), and besides the satisfaction of the slow accumulation of Obama supporters, there were some genuinely touching moments:
— the woman, an immigrant from Mexico City and a first-time voter, who, the day before Election Day, thought she had lost her mail-in ballot, vowed to search for it, and came running after me as I was leaving the complex, waving her found treasure;
— the college student supporting Obama because he’s the reason I’m able to continue my studies;
— kids from a mutli-ethnic apartment building, watching American patriots firing muskets at Redcoats, in a Saturday-morning Revolutionary War reenactment in the park across the street;
— the boy who guided me from door to door, and, when I told him I was working for the President’s re-election, asked why, if he was already President, he had to be elected again.
With hundreds and hundreds of doors knocked, and despite occasionally skirting the edge of law and custom, I was struck by how remarkably civil people were, whatever their political leanings. I had to wait until Election Day to actually have a door slammed in my face, by an angry Romney voter. Finally, I thought, a chance to say Fuck You, at least to a closed door. But, by that time, who had the energy and, anyway, why bother!?