Column: Canvassing For Votes, Not Candy

This story was written by Thomas Mann, Tufts Daily
Halloween has to be one of my favorite holidays. How often do you get to dress up in some wild costume, wander the streets at dusk and get rewarded with candy for your efforts? Like most people, I plan on partaking in the lively festivities that accompany this season. But this year it won't be just sugar-craving children knocking on doors.

Canvassing isn't much like trick-or-treating. You do not get candy, and what you do get can be downright disheartening. While going up and down the driveways of Londonderry, N.H. homes trying to get people to vote for Barack Obama, I couldn't help but be reminded of the times in my childhood when my mother would spy a few proselytizers approaching our house from the street and warn all of us not to open the door, turn off all the TVs (so as to make it seem as though we truly weren't home) and call all of the neighbors to "warn" them of unwelcome guests.

House after house in Londonderry, people would hastily close the doors after discerning our intent, or they simply would not open them at all. So, if it's so painstaking, why canvass? Why spend a whole day or a whole weekend in N.H. campaigning for Obama when there are so many Halloween parties to attend and so much post-midterm schoolwork to catch up on? After all, the polls look great for Obama both in the Granite State and nationally. There is surely a sense that fate is all but sealed and all that we've been looking forward to for what feels like the last billion years is finally here. But alas, it is not here yet.

In 2000, the final Electoral College breakdown was 271 for President Bush, 266 for Gore (270 votes are necessary to win); President Bush won New Hampshire's four electoral votes by 7,211 votes. This is not even twice the number of undergraduate Tufts students on the Medford campus. If Gore had won New Hampshire, the entire Florida issue would have been moot. Gore would have been the president.

Currently, Obama's lead in New Hampshire is real but not irreversible, and if Hillary's surprise victory in the primary is any indication, no contest should be taken for granted. As reassuring as a poll can be, ultimately, it is only a prediction of future events that have yet to come to pass. If you were to, say, place Obama's overall winning chances at 95 percent, there would still be a one in 20 chance of loss, and that doesn't even account for the possibility of unpredictable factors.

What worries me is that the perception of victory already achieved may actually hurt Obama on Election Day. If victory is imminent, why volunteer? Why vote, for that matter? After all, someone else will, and it's not like Obama really needs you. The effects of this kind of thinking on a massive scale could be devastating. On Election Day in New Hampshire -- and many other swing states -- I have a hunch that everyone who leans towards McCain is going to vote. I'm not so sure that the same can be said for every person who supports Obama; people have busy lives, and after all, he's projected to win in the state anyway.

And the Independents? For better or for worse, lots of people don't make a decision until they get into the booth, vacillate briefly and then settle on a candidate. Who knows if, after seeing pros and cons in both candidates, they might end up going McCain, just to give a little boost to the underdog? Who can tell if it might be enough to throw the state to the Republicans again, even if by just a few thousand votes? As speculative as this all is, it is within the realm of possibility. I think that this possibility alone should be enough to call any Obama supporter to action. If the last two elections have taught us anything, it is that no amount of effort is too much.

This weekend, after Halloween, I will be going to New Hampshire to canvass again. Iask all of you to come with me. The Tufts Democrats' Web site, Tuftsdemocrats.com, will give you all the details. Canvassing may not always be as much fun as Halloween parties and trick-or-treating, but it is essential for ensuring that the next four years turn out the way that we want them to.

To be honest, if McCain does win, I don't want to look back on my own inactivity and blame myself for the next four to eight years (or even the next few decades, depending on what happens to the Supreme Court). Approaching a voter in person is a campaigning technique unmatched by any other form of attempted persuasion; phone banking, mailings, commercials and e-mails do not have the same effect. Only canvassing allows you, if only briefly, to enter another person's world, to remind him or her face-to-face that in the midst of all of his or her daily routines and other obligations, there is a new president in the making and that you want him or her to participate in that process.

None of the forms of mass communication can match this degree of individual focus, and after all, elections are won by moving people one by one by one. If we all stay vigilant these last few days and continue (or start!) to work hard, we can make sure that New Hampshire -- or any other swing state -- does not go red again.
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