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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students canvass for Obama in NH

Published: November 7, 2008
Section: Front Page

PHOTO BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

With victory on their minds, Brandeis students worked to add four electoral college votes to the Obama column by turning neighboring swing state New Hampshire blue.

Beginning in September, members of the Brandeis Democrats and Democracy for America, as well as students unaffiliated with either club, canvassed in the town of Raymond, NH.

For canvassing purposes, the Democrats and DFA wanted to adopt one specific town in New Hampshire, Vice-President of the Brandeis Democrats Jason Paul ’09 said.

Adopting a town “enables us to go back and see what our impact is,” Brandeis Democrats Campaign Coordinator Justin Backal-Balik ’10 said.

As it would turn out Paul, a seasoned canvasser, had a friend working for the Obama campaign in New Hampshire, Hollie Gilman. “She was the right organizer for this campus,” Paul said. Gilman could not be reached by time of print due to campaign obligations.

The Democrats and DFA, with the help of Gilman, organized nine canvassing days for Brandeis students. “Pretty much up until Monday and Tuesday, we were knocking on all the doors in town trying to swing their vote,” DFA Campus Coordinator Phil Lacombe ’10 said.

Approximately 50 Brandeis students spent election day in New Hampshire, Backal-Balik said.

Overall, Paul stated, Brandeis sent more students to New Hampshire than both Northeastern and Boston University. He added, “our effort [in New Hampshire] was in many ways the best of any university [in Massachusetts].”

The town of Raymond, Lacombe explained “is typically very conservative.” He added, “Republican culture there is pretty strong…usually that part of the state is ignored.”

Raymond, population 10,000, is “usually not very swing-able for Democrats,” Lacombe continued.

As such, the Obama campaign in Raymond did not expect to win the town, Paul said. Rather, they hoped to close the margin between red and blue.

The Obama campaign in Raymond hoped to garner 2,320 votes to help them carry the state, Paul explained. They exceeded their goal, receiving 2,623 votes. John McCain won the town by 160 votes whereas four years ago, Bush won Raymond by 507 votes.

Through grassroots canvassing, “we got the number of votes we needed to win the state in the town,” Paul said.

“All of us know Raymond so well,” said DFA Campus Coordinator and New Hampshire native Liza Behrendt ’11. “There’s such a range of people,” she said. Knocking on neighboring doors might yield entirely different responses, she added.

While Behrendt was chased off of one man’s lawn as he shouted “about black liberation ideology,” other “people really appreciated that we came all the way up there,” Behrendt remarked. “People really opened up to me,” she continued, “I had people tell me the most personal stories.”

“Most people were pretty friendly,” Backal-Balik commented. One man whose door he knocked on offered Backal-Balik suggestions for an Obama campaign ad. “It was funny that he thought we had that kind of influence,” he said.

Like Behrendt, other canvassers experienced negative reactions from residents. “The worst was when we would get attacked with things that really aren’t true,” Lacombe commented.

“I argued with a guy for 30 minutes about taxes,” Paul added, “it’s frustrating.”

Some interactions surprised the canvassers. Lacombe spoke to one pro-life woman who cited abortion as her most important issue. “One thing I pointed to is when Obama met with [Saddleback Church Pastor] Rick Warren [and said,] ‘I don’t have the moral authority to address that issue – it’s between a woman and God,’” he described.

“I could tell she had an open mind,” Lacombe posited, “I hope I got her vote.”

For the apathetic, “Brandeis kids had the passion to inspire them to want to vote,” Behrendt remarked. “It was really cool to see how on an individual basis you could change people.”