Knocking doors for Romney in Wisconsin, and wasting no time

November 5, 2012

GOP volunteer Dick Farrell going door-to-door in Wisconsin. (Emily Heil/Washington Post via Instagram)

Dick Farrell has good doorstep technique.

“I don’t dilly-dally,” he says. “I ring the doorbell once or I knock once, then I move on.”

This is what the GOP’s ground game looks like in Wisconsin, a swing state where the get-out-the-vote effort on both sides could very well turn the election: Farrell, a wiry 70-year-old retiree with a silver flat-top haircut, is canvassing Stardust Road in the Republican stronghold of Waukesha.

He’s holding a clipboard with names of likely voters for Mitt Romney. He’s got a script in which he’s supposed to ask whether someone has voted, and if not, what time tomorrow they plan to head to the polls. He walks briskly to door after door in the tidy, middle-class neighborhood. He’s often greeted by barking dogs and wilting Jack-o-lanterns, but few people are home.

If no one comes, he opens the storm door and quickly slides in a few glossy brochures before closing it. “I used to be a paperboy,” he says of the deft move.

Occasionally, a door opens. An older woman in a robe and slippers informs him she voted early. He checks a box on the clipboard. A man in a suit assures him that he’s voted “for your guy,” he says, nodding at the Romney-Ryan sticker on Farrell’s jacket, but cuts off the conversation, explaining he has to get back to work.

Another check.

Farrell doesn't seem convinced – as the number-crunching wizards of both campaigns are -- that this simple ritual is the key to victory. “There isn't much to this, is there?” he asks as he squints at house numbers, looking for the next one on his list. “They say this is really important, and I’m taking their word for it.”

Federal debt is Farrell’s big issue. He’s fine – he’s got social security and retirement savings from a career at a chemical plant nearby. But he thinks about his six grandkids. His equation is simple: he thinks Romney will hold the line on spending, so he’s voting for him. “All those social issues?” he waves his hand dismissively. “Who cares?”

During doorstep conversations or when he’s on the phone bank at headquarters, Farrell doesn't argue with folks who disagree with him. He doesn't think you can change people’s minds, at least not in such brief exchanges.

On one of the last houses on Stardust Street, a gray-faced man answers the door. He hasn’t voted. Doesn't know if he wants to. Voted for Obama last time, but this time, isn't sure. “There’s too much to know, and I don’t know it,” he tells Farrell.

“Well,” Farrell says as a spitting rain begins to fall on the quiet street. “I think about the debt, and I’d encourage you to vote for Romney…either way, I hope you vote.” The man thanks him, and Farrell makes another mark on his clipboard.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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