PA-08: A union rally and canvassing ground report

(cross-posted at Deny My Freedom and Daily Kos)

As I have been doing the past weekends since I have returned to Philadelphia for the academic year, I once again visited the suburbs to volunteer some time in support of PA-08 Democratic nominee Patrick Murphy, an Iraqi war veteran running a strong challenge against the incumbent, freshman GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick. In the latest round of polling, Patrick was found to be behind 53-45 in a poll that overweighted the GOP advantage in the district by 13%. When adjusted for the proper registration breakdown in the district, Fitzpatrick holds an extremely slim 50-48 advantage. These last couple of weeks are going to determine this race, and every single dollar that anyone can donate or any time they could volunteer would be extremely helpful.

Today, I woke up extremely early to attend a union rally before pounding the pavement. Read on below the fold for the rest of my report...

At a United Steelworkers office, a union rally was hosted today in support of the entire Democratic slate of candidates, from candidates running for local office all the way up to the governor's office. Today was apparently a statewide union push to hit the pavement for Democratic candidates around the state; John Murtha, Bob Casey, and other prominent Pennsylvania Democrats were out in force across the state. The union presence was very visible, as were the campaigns for the major candidates statewide and in Bucks County. Governor Ed Rendell, PA-Sen Democratic nominee Bob Casey, and Patrick all had tables set up for people to sign up and volunteer at after the rally. After getting lost a few times on the way, myself and a few other Penn College Democrats ended up at the rally. It was raining, but turnout was very good for the miserable weather; I would estimate the crowd at around 100-150 people, the majority of whom were union activists.

After State Representative Tony Melio warmed up the crowd, Patrick took the stage to a rousing reception by the crowd. He acknowledged that many people knew him because of his service in Iraq, and he proceeded to cover a little bit about his biography. Patrick didn't cover the foreign policy issues as much, given the demographics of the crowd. Instead, he proceeded to hit on the problems of outsourcing that the country (and Pennsylvania, in particular, has; Pennsylvania is the 3rd-largest manufacturing state in the country) faces. As I'm sure many Democratic House candidates are doing, Patrick linked Fitzpatrick to his affirmative vote for CAFTA, despite his previous statements indicating that he would vote against it. It was a good tone to strike, especially for a union crowd that has strongly backed Patrick. Patrick didn't speak for very long, as it was presumed that Rendell would be arriving very soon. However, I feel like he hit the important weaknesses Fitzpatrick has with issues important to labor that they will provide the campaign with strong support up to the election.

After Patrick finished, he introduced the president of Pennsylvania's AFL-CIO, Bill George. To be honest, I've never attended a rally with such a heavy union presence before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. All I can say is...damn, unions are pissed at the GOP. I don't think I've ever heard such a speech filled with that much anger before, even on an issue such as Iraq. George particularly reserved a good deal of ire for Bush and Senator Rick Santorum, castigating them for signing unfair trade agreements, not keeping jobs in America, and letting China (in their view) dump a bunch of cheap metal into the American pipe market. In addition, he noted that health insurance costs were a problem and that it was important to vote for change this upcoming election. What I liked the most was that he repeatedly stated we needed to elect Democrats. When he began his speech, George stated, 'The only party that supports working families is the Democratic Party', a line that got wild applause from the crowd. It's true, and it's refreshing to hear someone, even if he's not a public official, speak truth to power. In closing a longer-than-expected speech (due to a tardy Rendell), George said that we needed to get out the vote for the generations that came before us, but also for the generations that will come after us. That's what this election is about: taking care of our past while ensuring that the future remains bright for all of us. To wit, George noted his 101-year old father - the oldest member of the state police union - has voted straight Democratic since coming of voting age, and he was going to vote that way via absentee this election. If a centenarian can bother to vote, it's up to us to make sure everyone else does, too.

After George finished, a couple of locally elected Bucks County Democratic officials spoke to the crowd. They noted that the registration demographics of the county were moving in favor of our party, and that we needed to keep up the trend this year. They didn't speak for too long, as Rendell's bus pulled in as they were speaking, drawing everyone's attention away from the podium and to the impending arrival of the governor.

After being greeted to sustained applause and chants of his name, Rendell launched into a 5-minute story about...soft pretzels. Certainly not one to stick to his lines (someone noted later that his speechwriter was probably having a heart attack), Rendell warmed up the crowd with a little humor before launching into a speech talking about the bread and butter issues. He noted that Pennsylvania was turning the corner in terms of jobs, and that there was going to be more funding for job retraining for those who had lost their job. He promised to provide universal health care to all Pennsylvanian children by the time he leaves office if he is reelected, something that played very well with the crowd. The most interesting moment of his speech, though, was at the end, when he took on Santorum. Recently, Rendell took some flack from the grassroots for his praise for the odious senator. Today, he called Santorum 'hypocritical' and took a swipe at the latest ads from Santorum, which he criticized as 'despicable'. He implicitly acknowledged the difficulty many Democrats may have when it comes to voting for Casey, someone with far more conservative social views than most in the party. Rendell said, "If we take perfect over good, then we're gonna get creamed", and it's something that we should take to heart as the stretch run continues this fall. Casey is certainly not the choice of many in the blogosphere. But he's our candidate, and he will still be a million times better than Rick Santorum as a senator.

The rally ended and the crowd converged on Rendell for a moment, with many hoping to talk to him, shake his hand, or take some pictures (I did the latter). Afterwards, we Penn students got our canvassing lists sorted out and headed off to Bristol Township to do a round of canvassing. The area, pictured above, was literally one block away from Murphy headquarters. We also had a pleasant surprise - Patrick was going to be doing a little canvassing himself in support of his candidacy. After pulling off to the side of the road, one woman noticed our bumper stickers and asked for a few lawn signs. She got an extra treat herself when Patrick stepped out of his car and spoke with her for a few minutes. It's great to have a charismatic candidate who really gets people excited once they get to know him. I canvassed with one other Penn Dem and Cindy, a Democratic Town Committee member in another part of Bucks County. Originally from New York, she's a proud Democrat who has Democratic bumper stickers all over her van and recognizes just how bad a turn the country has taken as of late. She's a support of a potential HIllary Clinton presidential candidacy in 2008, something that I was curious about and discussed with her a bit. Most of all, though, she's tired of losing. She found it impossible to believe Bush won the 2004 election, and she's tired of seeing politicians in Bucks County hide their Democratic Party affiliation. Patrick is a good candidate to work for in that respect - he's got the 'Democrat' label on his campaign ads and his literature that we hand out. It was her first time canvassing for Patrick, but she seemed to get a good hang of it by the time the day was over.

To be truthful, the response we got today was amazing. Normally, more than half of the houses I've covered on weekend canvassing outings are empty, and I'm lucky if a quarter of doors knocked are answered. However, perhaps because I was out earlier than usual (we canvassed from roughly 11 AM to 1 PM), I actually had a majority of the doors I knocked on being answered. Not to boast, but the response was outstanding. Of a total of 26 doors knocked on, Cindy and I had 20 contacts. An amazing 80% of those (16 total) supported Patrick, 2 didn't know enough about him to make an opinion, and 2 essentially told us to get off their property. Of those two that did not know enough about Patrick, it seemed like they had a positive response to our short introduction of him. Although this canvassing was officially sanctioned by the Rendell campaign in support of Rendell and Casey, we made sure to ask about Patrick as well. In the end, many people knew who he was and were going to vote for him. Others didn't know, but once they heard he was a Democrat, they stated they were straight-ticket Democratic voters, something that is going to help us a lot this year with the big names (Rendell and Casey) at the top of our ticket. One man stated he knew about Patrick, and I asked him if we had his support. "Let me put it this way," he said. "I'm a Democrat." It makes me feel very good to hear people say it unapologetically.

One person that didn't go down on our official tally sheet was an elderly lady we spoke to on the street. She hadn't heard of Patrick, but upon learning he was a Democrat, she said she would vote for him, along with Rendell and Casey. This lady was a lifelong Democrat, 'from my head down to my toes'. She was quite happy to see us out in the neighborhood, and she wished us the best of luck. Another person knew who Patrick was, and he said he and his entire family would be voting for Patrick on Election Day. Aside from asking for lawn signs and buttons, this man was also tired of the country being run by the GOP and their 'oil cronies'. He also noted the widespread appeal Rendell has in the state; his brother-in-law, a staunch Republican, would not vote for any Democrat - except for Rendell. This was something that I noticed in many people when I spoke about Rendell; there is a genuine affection for the man and for the way he has governed the past 4 years. There was even a suggestion from someone we canvassed that they'd like to see Rendell run for president. This may be what helps down-ticket the most - Rendell's ability to swing voters across party lines to vote for him. One person noted Lynn Swann was promising to cut taxes if elected. "But Rendell's been reducing taxes!", they noted. Rendell warned at the rally that his race would tighten, but I think he is being more pessimistic than he needs to be. He will win the gubernatorial race in a romp; now we need to spread his appeal to the rest of the Democratic ticket.

Of the people we had a discussion with, there was notable hostility towards Republicans of any stripe. Folks are tired of the lies, the deceit, and the politics of fear, and they want something different. An interesting conversation we had was with a (presumably) retired union worker who had been the president of his union. He intended to vote straight-ticket, as did his son, whom he was helping move construction materials into the house. The 'local boy done good' image that Fitzpatrick portrays certainly did not go over well with this person, who had graduated from the same high school as the Republican, albeit it several years earlier. He noted that Fitzpatrick was a Catholic - as was he - but that he was not doing a good job of representing him. As noted at the rally earlier today, jobs were flowing overseas. Iraq came up, and the ex-union head was greatly worried about how we were going to get out of that conflict. One thing that warmed his heart, though, was how many young people he has seen working on Rendell's campaign. For the longest time, he hadn't seen any young campaign workers coming out to hit the streets, but now, he sees a totally different picture. That generation - my generation - is getting involved, he said, and it was important that was continued to do so. Another man we canvasses - also a union employee - noted that it'd be a good idea to have Patrick attend some picket lines to shore up his union support. He expressed similar problems with awful health insurance coverage from companies nowadays, and he seemed worried about what might happen if he didn't get a contract renewal at his current job. It seems like the bread-and-butter issues are going to play big in the district (along with Iraq, of course), and with the labor support that Patrick has, it's crucial to make sure that his message gets out to everyone.

It was great canvassing a friendly neighborhood. I saw probably upwards of 10 Murphy for Congress lawn signs, with zero Fitzpatrick signs to be seen. One problem that could be cleared up with canvassing is the issue of hitting apartments. Although we had the exact apartment number we needed to go to, they cannot usually be entered by people without an appointment. In the end, that was a good deal of contacts (probably around 20-25) that simply cannot be reached. Hopefully, in the future, the campaigns will be able to screen out particular residences that may not be the best to canvass. I spoke with Patrick before we went canvassing, and he had read my previous ground report, where I chronicled the problem with canvassing a semi-gated community. It was a detail he noted, and I have faith that there won't be any such issues from now on.

As I left the headquarters for the train station, a group of roughly 10 Penn Democrats arrived to do an afternoon shift of canvassing. It's great to see such enthusiasm for Patrick and his campaign, and the fact that more young Americans are helping him out is not only a good sign for my generation, but indicative that our democracy may yet be alive and well. Please do everything you can for the candidates running in your local and statewide elections. As Cindy noted, we need to win this election more than ever. I'm lucky that I have such a cool candidate to volunteer for.

Yours truly is on the left. Rock on.

Tags: 2006 elections, Labor, Mike Fitzpatrick, PA-08, Patrick Murphy, Unions (all tags)

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