Monday, June 13, 2005 | By MIKE and RAMONA BYRON
San Diego has a special election for mayor coming up soon. We’ve found that successful campaigns are those that are oriented around person-to-person outreach to the voters, including precinct walking. This kind of campaign approach generally indicates a candidate who truly cares about the voters.
Precinct walking is a powerful political strategy. It allows a campaign to personally get the word out to voters on a one-to-one basis. But even better, it also allows for a campaign to take in the concerns and interests of voters as well, the vox populi (Latin for “voice of the people”).
Shari Mackin was one of the 11 candidates in Oceanside’s special city council election held on June 7. Shari herself was walking precincts almost every day during the campaign. She talked to voters, and more importantly, she listened to them. Still, Shari couldn’t be everywhere, so that’s where folks like Ramona and me come in.
Ramona and I spent the first week of June precinct walking for Shari’s campaign. During my run for the U.S. Congress last fall, we had walked extensively across our congressional district, including in Oceanside. So we knew what we were doing – well, mostly.
For example, on arriving at a given precinct we first needed to figure out where to park the car. The idea is to park it somewhere close to where you will end up after walking all or a major part of the precinct, with the aim of doing as little as possible of redundant walking. Ramona calls this “deadheading,” a term used by truckers who are returning to their base without a payload, and she considers it a nearly criminal waste of precious precinct walking time, not to mention the extra wear-and-tear on one’s feet without anything having been accomplished for it. Well, I had my ideas as to where to park, however, Ramona often had another plan.
Once we finally settled on a plan, we set out, fired up with enthusiasm for our candidate.
As the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 49th District last year, I wondered how to maximize the benefit to her from this without incurring losses for her among Republican voters. Among registered Democrats, I often identified myself and thanked the voter for voting for me. Then I employed my credibility to convince the voter to support Shari. For all other voters, I was just “a volunteer for Shari Mackin’s campaign.” Ramona used a similar approach.
Reactions among the many people we spoke to varied widely. Many seemed bored or indifferent. Others were interested and asked detailed questions. Still others wanted to talk about their own issue(s). We listened attentively and made careful notes on our precinct lists, so that voters’ concerns would be conveyed to the candidate.
Voters who favored another candidate usually made that very clear, very quickly. Sometimes they were even polite about it. One day, another candidate’s residence was on my precinct walk list. Neighbors told me that the candidate’s wife was home. I briefly considered trying to convince her to vote for Shari anyway, but I decided what the heck, the guy needed at least one supporter.
One area where Ramona and I had a tactical difference is how to deal with voters who have “no soliciting” signs posted. Clearly they don’t want salespeople to bother them. However, I don’t believe that this includes politically oriented knocks on the door, since we aren’t trying to separate the resident from their money. Ramona just left the flier on the door, while I usually knocked on it. About half the time I got a positive response, so I think that it’s worthwhile to approach these voters.
Last week, Shari was elected to the Oceanside City Council by a landslide. She received more than twice the votes of the second-place contender, and about as many votes as all the other 10 candidates combined. But considering the stakes, Oceanside itself was the real winner in this election.
Precinct walking is great exercise. Having the opportunity to actually interact with a large cross section of the voting public is a priceless opportunity. We strongly encourage everyone out there who is politically active and reasonably healthy to give it a try.
Now it’s San Diego’s turn. If you live in San Diego and you care about your city, do the “Hoofin’ Mouth.” If we lived down there we’d be out walking for Donna Frye’s campaign. However, we realize that there are other decent candidates who some of you might support. Whoever you support, get out there and precinct walk for your candidate.
Mike and Ramona Byron are writing a regular column about people, issues and events in North County. Voice welcomes all perspectives from different parts of the region.