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Candidates Turn It Up In Iowa For Final Weekend

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2016 – 4:36 PM

(AFP) Democracy is a contact sport. US presidential candidates know that all too well and are deploying all their efforts to reach voters on the eve of Monday’s caucuses in Iowa that kick off the presidential nomination contest.

Bernie Sanders campaign volunteers Bob Swope, from Missouri, and Australian-Irish national Fergus Wilson spent the first three hours of their Sunday morning knocking on the doors of 35 different homes in a working-class neighborhood of Iowa’s capital Des Moines.

Only Democratic and pro-Sanders eligible voters were on the list. The point is to nudge them to fight the bitter cold to attend a caucus, the meeting to select candidates that takes the place of primaries in the Midwestern state.

A woman covered in tattoos opens the door. She seems suspicious.

“Good morning, I’m sorry to bother you on a Sunday morning. I’m with the Bernie Sanders campaign,” Swope, 57, begins.

But before he can finish, the woman lets out: “I don’t have time for all of this. I’m sick of hearing about it.”

A man yells from inside the house: “Shut the door!”

This is going to be a “rough” neighborhood to canvass, Swope acknowledges. 

“It’s like Scranton here, people are beaten down, they’ve lost hope,” he adds, referring to the blue-collar Pennsylvania town.

The Sanders volunteers have no better luck at their next try.

“I’ll vote for Hillary Clinton,” a man says, slamming the door.

The next address also seems a tough one, with a “private property, no trespassing” placard in front.

“Sometimes you say a little prayer,” whispers Swope. 

No one answers, so he leaves a door tag with the caucus location.

The volunteers retreat when they arrive at one of the few houses with a support sign for Clinton, Sanders’ main rival.

– ‘Ready to go’ -Later, a couple opens the door to their home. They are Democrats and are hesitating between Clinton and Sanders. A man who gives his name as Eric is a member of a union.

“Bernie has been endorsed by all the unions,” says Swope, as he launches into a somewhat lengthy soliloquy.

“Hillary is much more conventional… the wife of a former president.”

Eric responds that he and his partner “might split” their votes, each going for a different candidate.

There will be 1,681 precinct caucus locations in Iowa on Monday. 

The challenge for candidates is that voters need to arrive at the locations by 7:00 pm, which explains in part why participation has historically hovered around 20 percent.

One man the volunteers visit says he won’t be able to make it because he needs to watch his children while his wife works at night.

Swope encourages the man to bring his children to the caucus, adding hopefully: “It won’t take that long, it’s a good civics lesson!”

The man promises to “think about it.”

The two volunteers do have a few successes. 

A Mexican permanent resident who can’t vote yet asks for a sign so he can put it in his yard, explaining that his 19-year-old daughter “loves Bernie.”

Clinton’s campaign insists that its ground operations are larger, inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 efforts.

“We have literally thousands of people who are already trained and ready to go,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said during a brief stop at an African American festival on Saturday. 

“We feel very good about it.”

– Telemarketing -The Ted Cruz campaign, which is targeting the religious right, did no such ground work on Sunday morning.

The candidate himself was at the vast Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, where he took part in mass with more than 1,000 faithful.

He then spent about 20 minutes shaking hands, kissing babies and posing for selfies.

“I prayed that God’s will be done,” he told reporters as he was leaving the church.

Asked if he had prayed for top Republican rivals Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, Cruz nodded and said, “I actually did.”

“One of the things that the pastor asked was pray for any who are your opponents,” he said. 

About 100 pro-Cruz activists took their spots in rows of telephones at campaign headquarters around lunch time.

In the afternoon, a prize goes to the volunteer who has made more than 1,000 calls.

On Saturday, more than 27,000 calls were made from this location. 

“I never felt like I could get behind a candidate before Senator Cruz,” says Nancy Anderson, who has been volunteering since October.

Cruz’s mother and Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick are also among those making these all-important calls to potential voters in telemarketing style. 

Patrick recalls one conversation he had with a voter hesitating between Cruz and his arch rival Trump.

“I said, ‘If you’re for Trump, stay at home with your kids, if you’re for Cruz, then be sure to get out and caucus!'” Patrick tells AFP.


© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

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