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April 18, 2014

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At the grass roots: A look at 8 Las Vegas campaign volunteers

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Julie Jacobson / AP

This photo taken Oct. 15, 2012 shows Cristina Aguilar, left, and Jennine Minervini canvassing a North Las Vegas neighborhood for the Obama campaign.

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Over the past year, thousands of Nevadans have taken to the streets, manned phone banks and stood in parking lots in hopes of helping their preferred presidential candidate find his way to the White House.

With less than two weeks until the election, the end is in sight for these campaign volunteers. But with the race between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney so close, volunteers are ramping up the enthusiasm and putting in extra hours to help make the final push to victory.

The volunteers come from varied backgrounds, representing a range of ages, ethnicities and ideological views. Each has his or her own reasons for getting involved, but many say they felt too much was at stake in the election to sit by idly.

Here’s a look at eight people politically active in Las Vegas and why they’re volunteering:

    • Irwin Nelson

      When Irwin Nelson thinks about what’s at stake in the 2012 election, his mind turns to his 10-year-old daughter, Raquel.

      “I’d been wanting to have a home for her. With her own bedroom, her own bathroom, her own backyard,” said Nelson, who until 2010 lived with his daughter in a studio apartment in the California Bay Area.

      Nelson came to Nevada in search of cheaper housing, and with the help of an $8,000 credit for first-time buyers included in the stimulus bill, he was able to purchase a home in North Las Vegas.

      With a roof over their head, Nelson’s thoughts began to turn toward the future. What kind of education will his daughter receive? How will she afford college? And what kind of job will she get when she graduates?

      To help ensure a better future for Raquel, Nelson took to the streets, knocking on doors as a canvasser for the Obama campaign.

      “I feel strongly if Mr. Romney is elected, it’s going to be tougher for my daughter growing up,” Nelson said.

      Although the economy is still struggling, Nelson, a retired FedEx supervisor, said he believed the president’s plan was working, and that the economy is starting to improve. Nelson also supports the president’s plans to hire more teachers to deal with classroom overcrowding and his efforts to make college more affordable.

      “I feel strongly that he’s a person that can move this country forward, but it’s going to take four more years to continue the vision and the plan that he has.” Nelson said. “It’s going to take time to heal this country; Obama’s trying to make it happen.”

    • McKenzie Beckstead

      Since she was 13, McKenzie Beckstead has been enamored with Mitt Romney.

      While attending a 2008 Romney campaign rally in Las Vegas, Beckstead passed out in the crowd and woke up in a downstairs room away from the event.

      “When I came to a couple of minutes later, I saw Mitt Romney walking across the room. He came over and said ‘Are you feeling better?’” Beckstead said.

      The two shared a brief conversation and Beckstead was left with a lasting impression of the future Republican presidential nominee.

      “First and foremost, he’s a man of character,” the now 18-year-old Beckstead said. “I know personally he’s a good man, and I admire that.”

      Although Beckstead wasn’t interested in politics when she was 13, the subject quickly became one of her favorite in school, and when the 2012 campaign rolled around, she knew she wanted to get involved.

      “I’d always lecture people, telling them to get out and vote. … I realized if I care and am telling people to get out there, I needed to be working too,” she said.

      Since the summer, Beckstead has been a fixture at the Romney campaign office in the southwest valley, often bringing several friends from her high school to help volunteer.

      “We’ll do calls,” she said. “If we don’t have school or it’s a Saturday, I’ll get a precinct around where I live and we’ll go knock on some doors.”

      Beckstead, whose parents both own small businesses, said she’s seen firsthand how the recession has affected the economy, and she thinks Romney offers the best plan for turning it around. She’s also worried about education and paying for college.

      A high school senior, Beckstead said she hopes to study politics and eventually work in the field after graduating, a choice that’s been reinforced by her time volunteering.

      “I used to be much more pessimistic,” she said. “I’ve learned how much more educated people are than we think. It’s been a cool experience. I realized how many people do care.”

    • Melinda Mansoor

      When she’s not out looking for a job, Melinda Mansoor can usually be found at the Romney campaign’s office in southwest Las Vegas.

      After losing her job with Lockheed Martin in April 2011, Mansoor said she’s met many people who also were struggling to find jobs in the down economy.

      “The state of the economy, whether it’s the defense industry or for any other person, has got to get better,” she said. “The facts show the state we’re in, our debt is increasing on a monthly basis. It’s time for someone else to try.”

      Making phone calls for hours a day, Mansoor said she’s encountered even more people who were struggling with job loss or home foreclosure.

      She relishes the chance to speak with undecided voters and be an advocate for Romney.

      “Before the first debate I was speaking to a caller. She was undecided … she told me she’d lost her home through foreclosure,” Mansoor said. “She was throwing questions out there. I said, ‘It’s always up to you, but just look at the economy and how things are going.’”

      Mansoor said although she’s a Romney supporter, she’s careful not to trash the president or the people who support him. Much of her time recently has been spent encouraging people to get out and vote.

      “I try to be very motivational, very positive. I don’t argue with people,” she said. “We have to keep getting the word out there for people to vote and use the right they have.”

    • Democratic campaign volunteer Pat Sutherland, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.

      Pat Sutherland

      For the past 16 months, Pat Sutherland’s home in the south valley has been an unofficial Obama campaign office.

      “I’ve had a birthday party for the president, convention watch parties, training sessions for voter registration, social events for volunteers to meet one another,” Sutherland said. “I’m an old hand at it now.”

      Although she’s been active in previous political campaigns – including phone banking for Sen. Harry Reid in 2010 – Sutherland says she’s more enthusiastic than ever about the upcoming election.

      “I’ve been energized by the young kids, most of them a third of my age,” she said. “They’re so high-energy, so intent on turning Nevada blue, I’ve been swept up in the excitement.”

      For the past several years, the 60-year-old Sutherland said she dealt with unemployment while she watched congressional Republicans as they stymied the president’s efforts to create jobs.

      “Programs like the American Jobs Act were completely ignored,” she said. “I was finishing up a degree and was faced with a job market that tanked. Not even temp agencies could keep me busy.”

      Sutherland recently was hired as a mediation specialist at the Neighborhood Justice Center.

      Even though the economy is still recovering, she thinks the president has it going on the right track, Sutherland said.

      “We’re heading in the right direction,” she said. “No it’s not fast enough, but we’re going to see continued steady economic growth, more and more people back to work, the housing market improving and consumer confidence being restored.”

    • Nash Torres

      Since 2007, Nash Torres has split his time between Nevada and his home-state New Mexico, always careful to avoid the triple-digit Las Vegas summers.

      That changed this year. With the election only a few months away and no time to waste, Torres braved the scorching desert heat to knock on doors for Mitt Romney.

      “I really care about the election; it so affects my family,” the 70-year-old Torres said. “I want something better for them, and President Obama is not the answer.”

      A retired teacher and small business owner with several advanced degrees, Torres said his biggest concern was the economy. He’s frustrated the president chose to focus on passing healthcare reform over creating jobs after taking office.

      “Everyone’s hurting. What it comes down to is the economy, and this time we’re not stupid,” he said. “The cost of food is going up, the cost of gasoline is going up. Everyone’s pulling out of my wallet.”

      Torres said that although Romney’s plans for the economy were untested, he believed Romney’s background in business and time spent running the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City have given him the tools to succeed.

      “He’s led his life in such a stellar manner,” Torres said of Romney. “Everything about his family is the American way. He came from privilege, but he made his own money. I’m impressed by his MBA and J.D. and the fact that he went on to become a very successful businessman.”

    • Teresa Crawford

      Teresa Crawford is no stranger to political campaigns.

      She started getting involved in the 1960s while attending UCLA. Her activism waned over the years, but she phone banked for John Kerry in 2004, supported Dina Titus’ 2006 gubernatorial bid and campaigned for Kate Marshall during the 2011 special congressional election.

      “It’s helping to make sure the right people are in charge of government policies that affect my patients, myself, my family and my friends,” said Crawford, a registered nurse. “It’s another way to make a difference in the community. The opportunity to put your values into action is really special.”

      Crawford’s involvement in the 2012 election began more than a year ago, becoming an Obama campaign team leader, helping organize and train volunteers in addition to canvassing and registering voters.

      She said she’s excited to be helping develop a new generation of activists with the tools needed to make an impact on issues they care about, regardless of whether they’re political.

      “The big points are empowerment and inclusion, knowing that going forward if there’s a challenge in my community, I have the skills and the people around me have the skills to make a difference,” she said.

      A lifelong Democrat, Crawford said she was thrilled with the progress the president made during his first two years in office passing the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus bill and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

      “I see the need for health care up close,” Crawford said. “We need legislation to increase access to affordable quality health care to many Americans and rein in insurance companies’ bad practices like denying people with pre-existing conditions.”

      After attending a few Tea Party rallies in 2010 and watching congressional Republicans battle with the president in the past few years, Crawford said she knew the 2012 election would be close, which prompted her to get involved early and volunteer often.

      “We know it’s been a tough re-election campaign,” she said. “We need to protect the progress we’ve made and continue going forward.”

    • Carlos Rossi

      As the Las Vegas economy ground to a halt during the recession and business for his architectural modeling company dried up, Carlos Rossi was forced to give up a lot – including his car and health insurance.

      Even though he’s a Republican, Rossi said he was hopeful the situation would get better when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

      “I was hoping he would do a good job, and he hasn’t,” Rossi said.

      Rossi said he’s watched the president steer the country toward socialism, pointing to the Affordable Care Act as an unfair burden placed on citizens and businesses.

      “It’s very unfair if it continues. It means everyone in the Untied States is going to have to buy health insurance. There are people who can’t afford that. I’m one of them,” Rossi said. “It also puts employers in a bad situation. It’s going to put people out of work.”

      With a personal stake in the election, Rossi said just voting wouldn’t be enough, so he started phone banking for the Romney campaign.

      “Even if Romney does lose this election, I can know in my heart that I did the best I could,” he said.

      Rossi is supportive of Romney’s economic plan – “It’s the classical plan that business will take care of itself if you don’t interfere,” Rossi said.

      Rossi hopes a Romney presidency will help jump-start the economy and that people will start investing in new construction, which would benefit his business.

      “I haven’t had steady work for three years. I’ve known fellow professionals who can’t get work either,” said Rossi, who works on a few projects per year now. “Those projects are enough to survive, but I’d like to be able to afford a vacation or going on a date.”

    • Democratic campaign volunteer Samantha Picazo.

      Samantha Picazo

      When she signed up to volunteer for the Obama campaign this summer, Samantha Picazo wasn’t sure what to expect.

      A bit shy, Picazo’s first assignment was to register voters in front of grocery stores and government offices.

      “As I got more comfortable with people, I started making phone calls, and in no time I was canvassing neighborhoods,” the 19-year-old College of Southern Nevada student said.

      After only a few months on the job, Picazo considers herself a grizzled campaign veteran, unafraid knock on people’s doors and talk to them about why she supports Barack Obama.

      “You never know what to expect. There’s definitely a range of people I’ve come across. I’ve been with strong supporters who stand by Obama completely and who really know their stuff, which is refreshing,” she said. “I have come across people who don’t support the president. I say, ‘Do more research. Obama’s going to help you more than you know.’”

      Picazo said she started volunteering after months of following the campaigns and watching important differences between the candidates emerge.

      “I knew there was a lot at stake for people like me and other Americans. I couldn’t stand idly by,” she said.

      “I’m mostly concerned about the rights of women and young Americans,” she said. “President Obama supports high-quality education for all and the opportunity to go out there and do what you want.”

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