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September 19, 2014

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ELECTION 2008 :

One voter at a time

Volunteers go door to door, salon to salon, for McCain, Obama

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Leila Navidi

Obama volunteers, from left, Cathy Wilson, Betty Cleveland, Exie Seastrunk, Glenda Jurke and Eileen Twomey meet before going out to canvass.

See All Volunteers

  • The Sun talked to volunteers for Sen. Barack Obama's campaign for president about why they made the leap from supporter to volunteer, and what issues are important to them in this election year. See volunteers »
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Undecided voter Susan Frelix, right, talks with Obama campaign volunteer LaNette Zimmerman while getting her nails done at Slick Nails salon in North Las Vegas. Both presidential campaigns had volunteers out in force Saturday canvassing in the Las Vegas Valley and across Nevada, a key battleground state.

What a day: Country clubs and nail salons, doors opened and doors slammed, new voters and old hacks.

Just a few weeks before early voting begins, Nevada is humming with grass roots politics, the longest electioneering season in history finally reaching its denouement.

Although candidates and volunteers hustled for votes in races up and down the ballot, on a day that felt like the first of desert autumn, the most intense activity was in the presidential contest.

Nevada remains a key battleground state. Both the Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and the Democratic nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, have huge teams of dedicated volunteers, and they worked hard Saturday. A look at the day:

Stepping out for McCain

About 30 McCain volunteers meet at a Starbucks at Flamingo and Sandhill early in the morning for a pep talk and marching orders from Everett Alvarez, an old McCain friend — and fellow former Vietnam POW. Volunteers meet at dozens of other locations across the state, according to campaign spokesman Rick Gorka.

Risa Anderson is the only black volunteer at the Starbucks. She’s the dean of students at a local high school who believes the Republican Party represents individual achievement and self-reliance, which are values that will deliver people out of poverty and despair, she says.

It’s not easy to be a black Republican this year, with Obama’s historic nomination and all — there’s pressure from family and friends, she says. “Sometimes, you have to step out,” meaning, go against the grain.

Anderson has been with McCain from the beginning and is a precinct captain.

She heads out to the Solera section of Stallion Mountain Country Club, the gated community where she lives and will walk today.

At her first door, an older black gentleman answers. He tells her he’s an Obama voter and shuts the door.

In a rather odd coincidence, a black voter opens the next door, as well. (“This is good for my black community building in the neighborhood,” Anderson quips.) The occupant is Henry Harvey, a retired phone company executive and an Obama voter. “If you look at the Republican philosophy, it has put this country substantially at risk, both from a foreign policy and now an economic aspect,” Harvey says.

If he were here, McCain would reply that the troop surge in Iraq has worked and is beginning to transform that country into a safe and stable democracy. McCain’s economic philosophy is a bit less clear at the moment, with him railing against corporate malfeasance and Wall Street greed last week despite a history of favoring deregulating the economy.

Did Harvey ever think he’d see a black person nominated to the presidency?

“Are you kidding me?”

Harvey played football at the University of Colorado, beginning in 1964. He was one of about 60 black students among the thousands there, and the administration discouraged them from dating white girls, he says.

He’s nervous about the election, afraid people will vote their “emotions” rather than their self-interests.

Emotions?

Harvey: “That’s a euphemism for racism.”

Anderson moves on. She hits three more doors, with no answer at one and Obama supporters at the other two. This can be dispiriting work at times, no matter which party you work for, but the terrain gets easier for Anderson as the morning goes on. Her doors represent just how close this election is, as she tallies six Obama supporters, six McCain supporters and six undecided.

Nailing down votes for Obama

In Summerlin, 18 women sit in the NeverEnding Story children’s bookstore, clutching coffee and waiting for instructions.

It’s just after 9:30 a.m. and over the next three hours they will pair up and hit beauty parlors and nail salons across the Las Vegas Valley to promote Barack Obama to other women. Another 900 volunteers will canvass statewide, according to the Obama campaign.

But first, the testimonials.

Most have been registering voters, knocking on doors and making phone calls for months. Many have never participated in a political campaign. Deputy political director Jennifer Lopez (not that one, though co-workers do call her J.Lo) reads the group a note from the candidate, just before they depart.

Women, Obama says, will make the difference in this election.

Among the devotees are LaNette Zimmerman and Glenda Jurke.

Zimmerman is a retired energy executive who moved to Las Vegas from Chicago three weeks ago, who volunteers several hours a day five times a week. She’d give more, she says, if not for volunteer duties at her granddaughter’s school.

Jurke is a Palms blackjack dealer who works the late shift. She was committed from the moment she saw Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. She volunteers seven days a week while working full-time.

Driving in Zimmerman’s Hummer, they arrive at the salon, but it’s empty. Jurke moves quickly to convert store manager Angela Ngo, placing a packet of voter-registration forms and Obama fliers on the counter, directly over an issue of People, the one featuring the McCain family on the cover.

Ngo signs on as a volunteer. A client walks in. Zimmerman is on her. The client, who doesn’t want her named used, says she’s in the military and already registered to vote. Zimmerman asks her for whom she’ll be voting. The response: “I think, Obama.”

Zimmerman says the Democrat will take care of veterans and thanks the client for her service. With that, they’re gone.

“If you get one, you get one,” Zimmerman says.

Ten minutes later they arrive at the second salon, Slick Nails, also in North Las Vegas. The couple repeats the routine. Jurke apparently converts the manager and gives him an election packet while Zimmerman works the clients. She registers a man to vote before moving on to Susan Frelix, who, while waiting for her nails to dry, says she’s undecided, but leaning toward Obama.

Frelix complains about the childish tone of the campaign and wants more details on what the candidates will do if elected.

Zimmerman is a natural saleswoman, and she and Frelix bond over their Chicago roots.

Walking back to the Hummer, Jurke hopes for more volunteers: “So when Barack is up for reelection in 2012, I won’t have to work this hard.”

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