Can­vass­ing in Md. starts early with some new tac­tics

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JOSH HICKS

With Mary­land’s gov­er­nor­ship and Gen­eral As­sem­bly seats at stake in the 2018 elec­tion, the state’s Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can par­ties are both test­ing new ap­proaches to out­reach and work­ing more vig­or­ously than in the past to boost turnout in their fa­vor.

Armed with lists of in­de­pen­dents and party af­fil­i­ates who sat out re­cent midterm elec­tions, party vol­un­teers and can­di­dates are can­vass­ing neigh­bor­hoods vir­tu­ally ev­ery week­end to con­vince vot­ers that the up­com­ing races mat­ter, fo­cus­ing largely on bat­tle­ground dis­tricts but also reach­ing into each other’s strongholds.

Democrats, who out­num­ber Repub­li­cans by 2 to 1 in Mary­land, want to oust Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and shore up their veto-proof ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly amid a surge of grass-roots ac­tivism and anger to­ward

Pres­i­dent Trump, who is deeply un­pop­u­lar in the state.

Repub­li­cans are push­ing to build on their 2014 suc­cess, when they cap­tured the gov­er­nor­ship in an up­set and took over nine leg­isla­tive seats dur­ing a year of record-low turnout for Demo­cratic vot­ers. They want to re­elect Hogan and break the Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jor­ity by flip­ping at least five Se­nate seats held by Democrats.

“The chal­lenge at this point for both po­lit­i­cal par­ties is to make sure your base re­mains en­gaged and com­mit­ted,” said John Willis, a Uni­ver­sity of Bal­ti­more pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor and for­mer Mary­land sec­re­tary of state who worked with past Demo­cratic cam­paigns.

In 2014, voter turnout in the state dropped 11 per­cent com­pared with the pre­vi­ous gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion, in­clud­ing an 8 per­cent drop for reg­is­tered Democrats. Some of the most sig­nif­i­cant de­clines oc­curred in Bal­ti­more City, Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties — tra­di­tional Demo­cratic strongholds.

Willis said reg­is­tered Democrats could take back the gov­er­nor­ship by in­creas­ing their turnout by four points, or about 80,000 peo­ple, not­ing that Hogan won the of­fice with about 66,000 more votes than his op­po­nent, then-Lt. Gov. An­thony G. Brown (D).

“The key to 2018 is mo­bi­liza­tion and get­ting back to nor­mal,” Willis said. “The mar­gin can be closed very eas­ily with a mo­bi­liza­tion ef­fort.”

To that end, the Demo­cratic Party has em­barked on a 10,000house­hold “lis­ten­ing tour” that will last through fall, ask­ing res­i­dents what they want from elected lead­ers be­fore de­vel­op­ing an over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage for up­com­ing elec­tions. Then it will pivot to­ward try­ing to per­suade vot­ers to show up at the polls and back its nom­i­nees.

“Old-fash­ioned neigh­bor-to-neigh­bor con­ver­sa­tions is the most ef­fec­tive tool in pol­i­tics th­ese days,” Mary­land Demo­cratic Party chair Kath­leen Matthews said. “Data is cru­cial, but in terms of a process, it’s all about build­ing trust and con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple.”

The Repub­li­can Party, flush with cash since Hogan took of­fice and hop­ing down-bal­lot can­di­dates can pig­gy­back on the gov­er­nor’s sky-high ap­proval ratings, has been sim­i­larly ac­tive, de­ploy­ing can­vassers to swing dis­tricts with a new mo­bile app that flags res­i­dents who are likely to con­sider GOP can­di­dates.

“It’s no se­cret we’re out­num­bered in voter regis­tra­tion, but we be­lieve we can cap­i­tal­ize on Hogan’s pop­u­lar­ity and a tight data op­er­a­tion to make sure that our vot­ers — start­ing with Repub­li­cans but also in­de­pen­dents and Democrats who will vote for Repub­li­cans from time to time — are go­ing to be there for us in the gov­er­nor’s and Gen­eral As­sem­bly races,” Mary­land GOP chair Dirk Haire said.

Both par­ties are try­ing to win over peo­ple like Perry Rose, a 51-year-old com­puter pro­gram­mer who lives in a work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood of eastern Bal­ti­more County. He voted con­sis­tently as a Repub­li­can in the past but now de­scribes him­self as an in­de­pen­dent, say­ing he grew disen­chanted with the GOP in re­cent years.

Del. Chris­tian J. Miele (R-Bal­ti­more County), who is run­ning for state Se­nate and was the first 2018 can­di­date to re­ceive back­ing from Hogan, worked Rose’s neigh­bor­hood dur­ing a re­cent can­vass­ing ef­fort this month.

Rose rec­og­nized Miele from a re­cent stream cleanup event and greeted the can­di­date as he neared his prop­erty with cam­paign brochures, but didn’t com­mit to sup­port­ing him in the next elec­tion.

“I don’t know what you stand for, but I know you’re a good per­son, and I can at least say you’re at the top of my mind,” he said.

Miele asked Rose to call him later so he could lay out his pol­icy po­si­tions.

“That’s why you door-knock — be­cause you don’t know how some­one like that is go­ing to vote,” Miele said. “It sounds like he’ll sup­port the per­son with the best ideas.”

Fred­er­ick res­i­dent Heather Scott-Fa­gan is an­other po­ten­tial prize for both par­ties. The 27year-old lab tech­ni­cian, who said she typ­i­cally votes only in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, de­scribed her­self to Demo­cratic can­vassers this month as strongly left-lean­ing but named non­par­ti­san redistricting — some­thing Hogan has pushed for the past two years — as a top pri­or­ity.

When asked whether she wants to see Hogan re­elected, she replied that she would “rather see some­one else.”

In­stead of wait­ing un­til af­ter the pri­maries, the state Demo­cratic Party has launched its field oper­a­tions and voter out­reach — roughly a year in ad­vance.

Trump’s elec­tion has bol­stered Demo­cratic re­cruit­ing.

Daryl Mar­tin, a 62-year-old ed­i­tor for gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors who knocked on doors with the Fred­er­ick group this month, said she has not been in­volved in cam­paign­ing since 1972, when she stuffed mail­boxes for then-Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Ge­orge McGovern.

“I did that and just dis­ap­peared un­til this elec­tion,” she said. “I got an­gry and de­cided I needed to do some­thing.”

Mar­tin and a part­ner knocked on 15 doors and reached four res­i­dents over nearly three hours, us­ing printed spread­sheets that did not list homes in a ge­o­graph­i­cal or­der.

Haire says the GOP mo­bile app, which uses data such as vot­ing his­tory and con­sumer habits to de­ter­mine which res­i­dents might vote for the party’s can­di­dates, gives them an ad­van­tage.

The day af­ter Mar­tin’s out­ing, Miele knocked on 35 doors in a two-hour pe­riod and reached five peo­ple, with his app pro­vid­ing log­i­cal routes.

The Demo­cratic Party has sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy but didn’t use it dur­ing the Fred­er­ick out­ing this month.

Both or­ga­ni­za­tions are up­load­ing res­i­dents’ re­sponses to sur­vey ques­tions to build their data­bases and iden­tify sup­port­ers, op­po­nents or those con­sid­ered per­suad­able.

Both par­ties are fo­cused on po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­grounds such as Anne Arun­del, Bal­ti­more and Fred­er­ick coun­ties, all ju­ris­dic­tions that Hogan won con­vinc­ingly in 2014.

In Mary­land’s 2016 Se­nate race, then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who won the seat, de­feated House Mi­nor­ity Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Bal­ti­more County) by 16 points in the Repub­li­can can­di­date’s home ju­ris­dic­tion, but he lost in Fred­er­ick and Anne Arun­del coun­ties by 4.2 points and 1.4 points, re­spec­tively.

State Sen. Ron­ald N. Young (D-Fred­er­ick), one of the GOP’s top tar­gets for 2018, said he feels con­fi­dent about win­ning re­elec­tion if turnout is strong in the largely Demo­cratic city of Fred­er­ick. Last week­end, he led more than 20 vol­un­teers on a door-knock­ing cam­paign in his district.

“There’s a good chance of some de­gree of a blue tide this time around,” he said. “Of­ten dur­ing an off year, vot­ers go the op­po­site di­rec­tion of pres­i­dent, and this one is say­ing some things that could mo­ti­vate peo­ple . . . but I’m not go­ing to rely on that. I’m go­ing to con­cen­trate on turn­ing out the votes my­self.”

“The chal­lenge at this point for both po­lit­i­cal par­ties is to make sure your base re­mains en­gaged and com­mit­ted.” John Willis, for­mer Mary­land sec­re­tary of state

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Del. Chris­tian Miele (R-Bal­ti­more County) knocks on doors Aug. 6 as he cam­paigns for the Mary­land Se­nate.

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Cory Den­nis, left, helps Del. Chris­tian Miele (RBal­it­more County) use a phone app to help di­rect them to po­ten­tial vot­ers while cam­paign­ing for the Mary­land Se­nate on Aug. 6.

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