Who would’ve thought that in 2018, in the age of Donald Trump and high-level social media strategies and sophisticated 30-second TV ads, that there still would be room for bare knuckles rapping on doors?
“Hi, I’m Brent Welder, and we’re running against Kevin Yoder.”
This, in a sprawling congressional district.
But there was Welder on Saturday in the Turner neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan., pounding the pavement as he went door-to-door more than three months from primary election day. In the rain. On this gray morning, only two potential voters of the first five houses Welder visited opened their doors.
No matter. Onward the Democratic candidate for the 3rd District of Kansas trekked, one house at a time. Sarah Cooper was the second voter who opened her door that morning. Welder explained he was trying to get his name on the ballot via petition. Would she sign?
“We’re doing it the old-fashioned way — person to person,” he said.
At this house and at others, Welder did something unusual for a politician: He spoke fewer words than Cooper, listening as the senior citizen outlined the challenges of living on a limited income as a former office administrator.
“I don’t want it tinkered with,” Cooper said at one point about Social Security.
In a steady hour of walking, Welder had conversations with precisely two voters. But even in a district of 722,973 residents, Welder has come to regard door-to-door canvassing as a campaign staple along with other modern-day strategies. It’s all about connecting and spreading the word.
But is he right? Does door-to-door still have a place in a massive congressional district? Or should Welder be back in the office dialing for campaign dollars?
Here’s betting that Welder is onto something. In a primary field with six others, many of them little-known political newcomers, the Democratic race is expected to be close. So every tactic should be employed.
Even today, forging personal connections is regarded as the most effective way to persuade a voter.
In Kansas City, for instance, paying for door knockers chewed up about one-third of the budget to pass the new airport in November. Paid walkers rang scores of doorbells to pass the general obligation bond issue and renew the earnings tax.
Phil Scaglia, the long-time Kansas City political consultant who oversaw those campaigns, said the goal is to touch each voter eight times. That can include direct contact with a door knocker, but also through mailers and phone banks and TV ads and Facebook.
Estimates suggest that just 40,000-60,000 Democrats will cast ballots in the 3rd District primary in August. If Welder can reach 400 or 700 of them, that could give him an edge, even though on Saturday, it seemed futile at times.
Still, Scaglia said voters will probably remember “the nice man who came to the door when it was raining.” The subtle message also might be if Welder is willing to work that hard now, maybe he’ll do the same in office.
Other 3rd District campaigns have made similar calculations. Candidate Tom Niermann gets out once a week. His efforts, much like Welder’s, are supplemented by volunteers who also knock on doors to forge those personal connections.
Nothing about Welder’s efforts were random. An aide guided him to households that metrics suggested would be home to primary voters interested in a candidate like him.
Each visit ended with the ask: “Can I count on your vote in the Aug. 7 primary?”
Sarah Cooper didn’t hesitate. Yes, she said. Yes, you can.