In the Democrats' campaign office in Dillingham, Alaska, they can never be sure if a visitor is looking for candidates or dryer sheets. Not that those two objectives are mutually exclusive; the office, a single room in a laundromat, provides both free of charge.
"You would mistake it for a broom closet when you enter the laundromat," writes Max Croes, Sen. Mark Begich's (D-Alaska) spokesman, in an e-mail.
The state Democratic Party opened up the field office in the Sifsof building last May -- the first time they've set up shop in Dillingham -- anticipating that they might need to look for voters in yet-untapped places — focusing on Alaska Native villages — if they wanted to keep Begich in the Senate, as The Washington Post's Philip Rucker reported in a story over the weekend.
Whereas Sullivan and the Republican Party have 14 field staffers on the payroll, Begich and the Democratic Party have 90. Nearly half of them are based in rural Alaska and are responsible for on-the-ground organizing in the state’s 198 Native villages such as Quinhagak.
“We have knocked on every single door in rural Alaska,” Begich said in an interview. “This is unbelievable. No one’s ever done it like this — ever.”
Here's where you'll find Dillingham.
And here's where all of field offices for the Alaska Senate race can be found.
In early September, the senator went to Dillingham to campaign during a chili cook-off. He spoke to a crowd in a parking lot outside the campaign office. A reminder of the office's commercial application photobombed Begich the entire time, as the picture to the right shows.
Which is why we're willing to call this office one of the most exotic campaign locales in the country. It also is a reminder of how candidates are pulling out all the bells and whistles and bare-bones additions they can in this intensely micro-targeted election year.
Both parties obsess over the details. Although the endless forecasting models and talk of fundamentals give every election an air of inevitability, campaigns diligently add up handshakes, percentage points, field offices and Facebook ads in the hopes that a bare majority of effort will lead to a bare majority in the Senate.
Dillingham is a town of 2,000, but its size swells as those fishing for wild salmon in Bristol Bay visit the two grocery stores in town, which serve as bookends to Sitsof Laundry. And most people inevitably end up at the laundry to wash their wet and fishy wares. If one was going to find a strategic location for a field office in the middle of nowhere, this was probably the best place.
A handful of other Democratic candidates agree; the laundry office has seen several other campaigning visitors this summer, including House candidate Forrest Dunbar and lieutenant governor candidate Bob Williams.
It's not the easiest place for volunteers to work. Addresses aren't a requirement in Dillingham, since everyone just gets their mail delivered to the post office. Croes said that people have been known to draw maps when canvassing -- or, if they've been lucky enough to live in Dillingham forever, they just know where every voter in town lives off the top of their head.
Dillingham's Democratic chairman, Mike Davis, doesn't see why a lack of addresses would ever be a problem: "People are known around town. They've lived there forever."
Trying to look up addresses on your phone would be unwise -- this is the closest you can zoom in on downtown Dillingham on Google Earth.
The Democrats aren't alone in trying to expand outreach in the Alaska Senate race. Kyle Kohli, the communications director for the Alaska Republican Party, says they have hundreds of volunteers all over the state, from Nome to the North Pole. The North Pole Republican Women have been working like crazy to make sure people vote.
Davis, who does a bit of commercial fishing in the summer, says that candidates better be prepared to talk about salmon if they come to Dillingham. "Fish is a big deal," he said.
"Here, you're looking for candidates who will protect that way of life."
He also noted that you can't even hear the dryers when you're working in the campaign office.
Davis served as a Fairbanks state representative in the 80s, and just retired from the University of Alaska, where he was an associate professor of Rural Development. He adds, telling this reporter that her employer's publication is his favorite, that he almost wrote about competing in the Iditarod for The Washington Post.
The newspaper ended up killing the story, he said, but he was compensated for his efforts.
"I have a journalist friend who told me, 'Not everyone gets a kill fee from The Washington Post.'"
For more about campaigning in Alaska, be sure to read Rucker's great story from Saturday.
We want to write about more field offices in far-flung and interesting places before the election. Have any nominations? E-mail me at jaime.fuller(at)washingtonpost.com