Getting Out the Vote for Obama in NH


KEENE, N.H. (Jan. 8, 2012) — Memorize the script beforehand so you’re not standing in the street reading.

Find out what houses you’re going to while you’re still at home so you don’t get lost.

If you leave a hanger on the doorknob, write the time the polls open and sign it.

Those are just a few of the tips to a successful canvassing trip Mary Palmer  of Lee, Mass., ticked  off as she canvassed the streets on Keene. Canvassing for votes, she said, can’t be mechanical. “It’s nice to put a human touch on it,” explained Palmer, 66, an assistant house manager at a performing arts center from Lee.

Palmer was one of three Berkshire County residents who made the two-hour trek to Keene on Sunday to spread their message to New Hampshire voters: Vote for President Barack Obama in Tuesday’s primary.

The Berkshire volunteers canvassed in the neighborhood surrounding Keene State University. Because students were still away on winter break, few people answered the volunteers’ knocks on the door. But that did not deter the Berkshire contingent.

“If we find one person who’s committed and who says they’ll talk to others,” Palmer said, “then we’ve still done our job.”

Palmer is a veteran canvasser. She also came to New Hampshire during Obama’s 2008 campaign. She recalls attending an Obama rally in a park in Manchester. She stood about 40 feet away from him. She would have tried to get closer, she said, but students rushed toward him and blocked her.

On Sunday’s outing, a fellow volunteer wondered if hanging Vote-for-Obama notes on doorknobs would annoy voters.  “That’s their problem,” she said. “We’re here we might as well make the best of our time here. If they want poor government, they’re going to have to work for it.”

Palmer’s persistence paid off. After a series of knocks on empty houses, someone finally opened a door. Palmer jumped into her spiel about voting for Obama.

The resident was Lillian O’Reilly, 72, a retired accountant for Keene State, enthusiastically agreed, promising, “I’m going to leave bright and early.”  She would be willing to volunteer come March or April when the campaign kicks into high gear, she said.

Palmer thanked her. “You’re the best house we’ve gone to so far,” Palmer said.

Susan Olshuff, 63, a fundraising consultant from Lenox, organized three canvassing events for Berkshire residents. The first was Saturday. Olshuff was not with the Berkshire groups on Saturday or Sunday. She plans to come to Keene with two or three other people Tuesday for a final push get people to the polls that day.

Obama is unlikely to lose the Democratic nomination. But canvassing for Obama during the primaries is important to show that support for Obama remains strong, Olshuff said.

For Phil Tierney, 66, a retired high school government teacher from Pittsfield,  Sunday’s canvassing was his first since eight years ago when he knocked on doors in support of then-Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey. This was much more pleasant, Tierney said, because it was snowing when he went out for Bradley.

Tierney attended college at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, N.H., during the 1960s. He does not remember the New Hampshire primary being as big a deal then as it is now. Now, candidates’ signs flood any open space, he lamented. He decided he needed to canvass for Obama this year because of that.

“People think, ‘Holy cow, so and so has so many lawn signs, somebody must know something about them,’” he said. “So we need to get out and inform people.”

(Rebecca Kheel, a senior with dual majors in newspaper journalism and history, is covering the New Hampshire primary for The Berkshire Eagle.)



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