Election win requires knocking on many doors, candidates say
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2012
10/21/12 at 7:49 AM
Read all the election coverage.
There's no secret about what it takes to win a legislative race in Oklahoma.
Sure, you need to have the right message.
Sure, it helps if you have a pretty face.
Sure, it doesn't hurt if you've got some money.
But the No. 1 thing it takes to get an expenses-paid trip to Oklahoma City for the next legislative session is shoe leather.
And plenty of it.
Nowhere is that truer than in an urbanized district like Tulsa's House District 78, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Jeannie McDaniel and Republican challenger Paul Catalano have been walking the streets, knocking on doors and meeting the folks since summer.
Rules of the road: Two neighbors are sitting in front of a Florence Park home when Catalano walks up, a brochure in hand.
"You're wasting your time with me," the first man says. "I don't vote."
But the second man does vote, and he's on Catalano's team.
"I'm going to vote straight-party Republican anyway," the man says as he takes Catalano's information.
The candidate smiles and walks on to the next house.
Catalano works from a master list of likely voters. He knocks on the door of every house where the residents have voted at least twice in the past five elections.
Every house gets at least a door hanger, unless there's some obvious omen to dissuade him - like the big blue Barack Obama sign and the large Labrador retriever in the front yard at the next house.
"Truthfully, I don't think I'd be using my time well there," Catalano says with a smile. He walks on.
It's his first political race, but he has already figured out the rules of district walking.
The golden hours, he says, are between 3 and 5 p.m. Parents are often at home but not yet busy fixing dinner or helping their children with homework. They'll take a few minutes to talk to an earnest young candidate at the door.
Retired people - frequent voters - are generally home anytime, he said, but one rule he's learned: Never come knocking after dark.
On most days, he catches a voter at home at about one house out of 10.
An attorney by trade, Catalano is quick-witted and ready with a prepped answer to questions.
Priorities? Education and infrastructure.
Eliminating the personal income tax? Not top on his agenda. Deal with the school problems first and the road problems - those are the issues on the minds of businesses looking to expand, he said.
How does he distinguish himself from McDaniel? He looks at problems and thinks of how they can be solved by building the economy through small businesses, not through building the government, he said.
Some people curse him for no reason, and others promise their vote as soon as he says he's a Republican, but Catalano says he'd rather persuade them with a nice discussion of education reform and funding - he's for both - or social issues.
"Maybe that's crazy. Maybe that shows I'm a freshman politician, but the system works best when people know why they're making their decisions," Catalano said.
Two neighbors: It's a windy day, and McDaniel rings the doorbell of a conservative Republican voter who already has her sign in his front yard.
"It's your friendly neighborhood politician calling," she says with a smile as the man comes to the door.
They chat awhile about the neighborhood, his family and the state's new voting machines. She remembers his children and has notes to remind her that he just celebrated a birthday.
He says he doesn't support many Democrats, but he makes an exception for McDaniel.
She hands him her brochure with her home telephone number and her email address as she backs away, smiling.
"Call if I can help or listen," she says.
McDaniel, a marathon runner, approaches campaigning vigorously. She's out working neighborhoods every day that her legislative duties don't have her in Oklahoma City, she said.
Next door, a retired school teacher on the opposite side of the political spectrum answers the door in his stocking feet. His aging dachshund tries to look intimidating through the glass door but isn't quite up to it.
The man says he and his neighbor are good friends but haven't agreed about much involving politics in the past 40 years. But they can agree about McDaniel, he said.
Again, she chats with him about family and the neighborhood, and, again, she walks away with a pretty good idea that she's got a vote on Nov. 6.
Down the street McDaniel has a long talk with two retired teachers who are getting out of their car.
"If you can read, thank a teacher," their bumper sticker says.
She thanks them.
When one says he is discouraged by the state of the state, McDaniel tells him never to lose faith. The state's will to build its public schools is there, she says, and some day the tide will turn at the state Capitol.
She says it with the zeal of someone who really believes.
Education is by far the top issue on voters' minds this year, she says later. Otherwise it's a mix of subjects - as often as not things well outside the purview of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
The code violations in the neighbor's yard down the street.
Troubles with the city's new trash cans.
She listens and solves those problems she can.
"All politics is local," she said.
Sometimes it's very, very local - even personal.
One of her favorite questions for a constituent she's meeting for the first time: "What keeps you awake at night?"
How to lose an election: How do you lose an election? Stay home. Don't work.
At the beginning of every legislative session, the seasoned veterans will look around and remember their colleagues who didn't make it through another election.
"Got lazy," they'll say. "Didn't work and the other guy came up and got him."
Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell emphasized exactly that point in a recent blog post on the state party's website.
"I don't want to sound rude folks, but I really don't care about excuses anymore," Pinnell wrote as he pleaded for volunteers to help candidates work their districts. "If this election cycle won't get you off your backside, I don't know what will."
Door-to-door campaigning by volunteers accomplishes three important campaign goals at minimal cost, he wrote. It builds positive name identification, shows that people support the candidate and effectively leads to Election Day turnout, he wrote.
But those seasoned lawmakers say no surrogate is as effective as the candidate in person, shaking hands, looking the voter in the eye and listening - always listening.
House District 78 has about 18,500 households with at least one registered voter.
Between now and Nov. 6, Catalano and McDaniel seem determined to knock on as many of those doors as possible.
Original Print Headline: Knocking for votes
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
State Rep. Jeannie McDaniel carries voter lists and notes as she goes door to door in her district. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
Paul Catalano goes door to door in House District 78, where he is running for a seat in the Oklahoma Legislature. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
House District 78 incumbent candidate Jeannie McDaniel (left) visits with former teachers Sharon and Britt Williams while walking door to door in her district Thursday to talk to her constituents. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
House District 78 Republican candidate Paul Catalano pulls campaign signs from his car to put in the yards of Florence Park neighborhood residents who request them. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World