By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The first thing that strikes a visitor to ACT’s Canton office — or, I daresay, to any ACT office — is that the walls are bare. In any normal political headquarters, the walls would be covered with pictures and posters of the candidates, but 527s such as ACT are not supposed to coordinate with specific candidates’ campaigns or do more at the doorstep than offer comparisons of the candidates’ positions, ascertain the residents’ political preferences and help get such residents as they wish to the polls. The smiling face of John Edwards and the sorta-smiling face of John Kerry, then, are nowhere to be seen, even if ACT is really the most indispensable element of the Kerry-Edwards operation.
Of the roughly 18 ACT canvassers who walk Canton’s sidewalks every weekday from 4 to 8 p.m., a majority are, like Leasure and Fothergill, former steelworkers. (In Columbus, says Goode, a majority are Ohio State students.) Canton is also home to factories of Timkin, Rubbermaid and Hoover Vacuum Cleaners, all of which have laid off thousands of workers during the past three years. Leasure and his canvassing partner, Sean McDaniel, often begin their front-porch raps by asking residents if they know somebody who’s been laid off and is looking for work. They are, of course, leading the witnesses.
On the stunning, beautiful afternoon when I walk with them — the temperature is in the low 70s, and the sky (perhaps because the steel mill and the other factories are largely shuttered now) is a brilliant blue — many of the residents express more concern over high drug prices than job loss or any other issue. Leasure and McDaniel have started one hour early, at 3 p.m., and they disproportionately are turning up widows, Alice Carrington among them. For a while, their walk looks like nothing so much as the Canton road show of The Producers.
ACT is not alone in Canton. The Kerry campaign has its own get-out-the-vote drive, as do the unions among their own members. (It’s not the industrial unions, now shrunk to a fraction of their former size, but the public-employees, teachers, health-care and communications unions that will wage the large-scale campaigns.) Thousands of union activists have been knocking on members’ doors since June; in past years, they didn’t get started until September.
When speaking of Ohio workers, Ohio evangelical Christians and Ohio gun enthusiasts, we are often talking about the very same people. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood at the gates of the Ford plant and heard workers say that they’re voting their guns,” says Congressman Sherrod Brown, a progressive Democrat who has represented a largely working-class district just west of Cleveland since 1993. Over lunch in Donna’s Diner in Elyria — on a street that looks to have aged but not changed since the 1950s — Brown mentions that the last time he was there, he and his staff registered a notably reticent waitress. Her reticence, he surmises, was based on her conservative stance on social issues. “The Democrats don’t know how to talk to her,” he complains. “Democrats assume that working people know we’re better on the economy than the Republicans. I don’t think that many of them do. We have to talk about all those issues to her, to make crystal clear which side we’re on. If we don’t, she’ll vote on abortion, and the guys in the plants will vote their guns.”
Brown notes that he carried heavily Catholic, socially conservative Lorain County with 81 percent support in the last election despite his avowedly pro-choice politics. He attributes his success to the fact that his constituents know he’s been a leading opponent of NAFTA and a champion of Canadian drug importation and the like. In short, he’s been there on some issues where John Kerry has only recently arrived (trade), though on others (drug prices), Kerry’s record is the same as his. He also has a home-court advantage that Kerry lacks, of course, and the Republicans are gently endeavoring to convince Ohioans that Kerry is actually the Antichrist.
Nobody knows which operation will be more successful: Karl Rove’s mobilization of social conservatives or Steve Rosenthal’s — and Dave Leasure’s — mobilization of working-class voters. But the CWA’s Rechenbach is upbeat. “It’s not there for Bush,” he says. “The economy remains truly terrible. I can’t see the undecideds falling to Bush in the last week. In that environment, people will vote for a change — against the devil they know. All Kerry has to do is appear presidential down the stretch.”