Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008 | midnight
Sunday morning and the sun is on low boil. An inordinate number of flies annoyingly hover near the entrance of the Sunrise Library. Outside, a few Barack Obama supporters prepare clipboards and paperwork for the day’s mission: persuading people to support their man.
It’s 10:30 a.m., prime church-going, football-watching and, apparently, library-visiting hours in the northeast Vegas neighborhood near Eldorado High School. There are no takers among the steady stream heading inside the library.
So Yvonne Green, a 60-year-old New Yorker whose door-to-door canvassing helped put current federal House Ways and Means chairman Charles Rangel in the New York Assembly 42 years ago, and 18-year-old Krystal Soto, a Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts senior, whose peppy attitude and black glasses recall the face-engulfing shades popularized by Hollywood starlets, set out to canvass, just two cogs in a vaunted grassroots ground game that is central to Obama’s White House hopes.
Herewith are a few observations from my tag-along. Note: The same offer was extended to the Nevada Republican Party, but officials didn’t respond before press time.
1. Enthusiasm may matter more than numbers. “Who the ...?” That was Green’s reaction to Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. “I knew he was special then,” she says. “I know people are upset that he stepped in front of Hillary Clinton when it was her turn. But he probably stepped in front of someone in 2004. It wasn’t his turn to give that speech. Who was he?”
Soto bucked the Clinton-supporting feminists in her family and volunteered for Obama in the lead-up to the January 19 presidential caucus. “He hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be young, the struggles. He connected with me. I’ve supported him ever since.”
2. When canvassing, wear comfortable shoes. On Apache, a mother with her three tie-wearing sons hustles out the door and right past Green and Soto, barely stopping to say she’s got no time for this. The rude calculus of canvassing soon becomes apparent: This isn’t door-to-door or even every-other-door stuff. It’s the-doors-may-be-blocks-apart stuff. Or can’t-find-the-house-on-the-map stuff. We cross Bonanza looking for two homes, only to double back and find one by luck and the other by snooping onto someone’s property to sneak-peek an address. We complete three-fourths of a multi-block circuit, walking for 30 minutes before finding another address. “Ugh,” Soto says. “I like door-to-door a lot better.”
3. This town’s transiency works against it. The next five homes, on Betty and on Washington, yield a variation on the same answer: No one by that name lives here. The woman answering the door at a home on Christy Lane says the former homeowner was reassigned by the military. Green’s biggest fear is not being able to track down people who’ve moved within the Valley. “This town is transient in its transiency. People go from an apartment to a home. Many of them forget to register a change of address and, as a result, don’t vote.”
4. Immigration could sink or lift Obama.The lady’s name is Elena, she’s a Hispanic Republican, and her house is fenced—volunteers are discouraged from knocking on these doors for safety reasons (dogs and the like). Elena comes outside, and Soto addresses her in Spanish. Elena says she’s going to vote for Obama because she’s concerned about immigration reform.
The white woman around the block hesitates when Soto asks about her most important issue. “I’m just going to say it. Immigration. Immigration is big. I think everyone who’s here should speak English.” Heading back to the library, Soto says Hispanics and young people could decide this election “if we vote. But my friends … I don’t know what they’re going to do.”