Forget about high-tech computers, GPS systems and phones. The most important weapon a candidate can have when doing door-to- door campaigning is a pair of comfortable shoes. That is one item considered important by Delegate Kris Amundson (D-44), who is running for re-election.
Others who bear witness to wearing good footwear are David Kennedy, who is running against Amundson for the House of Delegates and Chris Braunlich, who's running for Virginia Senator in the 36th District against Senator Toddy Puller.
Amundson's footwear of choice is a pair of sneakers; Kennedy prefers his Rockports and Braunlich said, "the trick is to find the ugliest shoes, they're probably the most comfortable." All three candidates think that the personal contact of going door-to-door is very important.
"If I could sit down with every person [in my precincts] for 15 minutes, that would be an ideal political campaign," said Kennedy.
Since that is neither practical nor probable, candidates pick and choose the areas they most want to focus on. Last week, Braunlich spent some time in Waynewood; Amundson was in Sherwood; and Kennedy was in Belle Haven. They are all armed with "street sheets," lists which give data about the residents' party affiliation, whether or not they're registered voters and voting record, if available. Most say that they do not go to homes where residents are not registered voters, nor do they go to homes who display the opposing candidates' signs. Braunlich said that he tends to pick precincts that are marginal, with a lot of independents, but his campaign manager prefers that he walk Republican precincts.
Kennedy focuses on meeting people from both sides, saying, "Elections are about parties, winning is about representing the whole party."
Amundson said that she always stops at homes displaying her sign, just to thank the homeowner. She also has a policy of not walking across resident's lawns.
ALL THREE POLITICIANS have different strategies. Braunlich introduces himself and asks the people if they have any issues. Amundson is more straight-forward and after she introduces herself, asks if she can count on their vote. Kennedy introduces himself and asks if they have any issues or concerns.
All three leave brochures and send follow-up notes or letters to people who are not at home. They find that most people are home during weekday, early evenings, or on weekends.
"I will vote for you." "We're for you." "Count on our vote." Those phrases are music to the ears of politicians who have spent months, and sometimes years, preparing for their political lives. Residents who are explicitly for the candidate will be noted, and will most likely receive a call reminding them to vote in the November election. People who do not commit can at least put a name with the candidate's face when they go to the polls.
Most people are receptive to the candidates. "People are unbelievably polite," said Amundson, who's only had one or two incidents where people were "nasty." Kennedy also said that he's only had a couple of people who yelled at him.
Kennedy doesn't worry much about dogs, but both Amundson and Braunlich are concerned about dogs, especially big dogs. Amundson was actually bit by a dog one time, as was Braunlich in a prior campaign.
There is another side to campaigning, however. Amundson said that one night somebody offered her dinner, and another time a woman offered her a glass of wine. She declined both because she wanted to keep going with her knocking, but was touched by the offer.
CANDIDATES DO learn a lot from the people who take the time to talk, and will often spend 15-20 minutes with a constituent. Last week, Braunlich spent about 15 minutes talking to Helene Sigleo in Waynewood, who was concerned about the hospital, taxes and other things.
"I've lived here for 40 years; I think some of the surplus [from the county] should have come back to us. People say that I can sell my house and make lots of money, but where would I go?" said Sigleo.
One of the men that Kennedy spoke to at length, Michael Motley, was concerned about traffic, safety for his children and vandalism. He was concerned about the budget and healthcare for the elderly. He was also concerned about the adoption process.
Kennedy later said that he listens to the issues and then tries to provide information.