Young Democrats canvassing Rockbridge County for Deeds

By Shannon McGovern

At first glance, Creigh Deeds should have little to worry about going into the Nov. 8 election.  A moderate Democrat with a nice-guy image, he has name recognition after a 10-year stint in the House of Delegates, followed by a decade as a member of the state Senate with runs for state attorney general and governor in 2005 and 2009. But some Democrats are worried.

Young Democratic activists, whose grassroots enthusiasm helped elect President Obama in 2008, say they are concerned about Republican strategies to gain more control in Washington.

Locally, races like Deeds’ loom large because Republicans need only three seats to gain control of the Virginia Senate, which would give the GOP the upper hand in both of Virginia’s legislative chambers. Republicans already control the House of Delegates and the governor’s office.

A majority in the state Senate would give Republicans control over the re-drawing of congressional district lines, which is underway in response to population changes in the 2010 census.

Congressional districts can be drawn in ways that improve a party’s representation in Congress.

“I think if the Senate is held by Democrats, they’re going to make to sure economic opportunities are a little more relevant around here,” said field organizer Jake Larson, 25, of Chicago.

Larson and Jacqueline Brubaker came to Virginia earlier this year to work on the Deeds campaign.

Jake Larson and Jacqueline Brubaker help campaign for Creigh Deeds.

They make the rounds through the quiet, spread-out 25th Senate District that contains parts of Rockbridge, Albemarle, Alleghany, Bath, Nelson and Buckingham counties.

They visit farms and small towns trying to motivate moderate and Democratic voters to show up to vote.

Along the way they have recruited Washington and Lee University College Democrats and local volunteers who share their goal of extending Deeds’ senatorial legacy.

Brubaker, 30, says she always knew she wanted to work in politics and was an intern for the Obama re-election campaign when she landed a job with the Deeds campaign.

After working in Lexington for several months, she was promoted to field director, and she moved to campaign headquarters in Charlottesville.

Both Larson and Brubaker said their favorite part of the job is talking with people in the community who have lived here all of their lives. The young campaign workers say the life-long residents educate them about what is important to people in the district.

The best way to get a vote is to knock on a door, they say. Larson, with the help of volunteers from the community and W&L, spends most of his time canvassing neighborhoods in Lexington and the rest of Rockbridge County, reminding voters to go the polls next month.

Larson has the system down to a science: He uses a database that rates residents as “Democrats” and “strong Democrats.” He maps out “turfs,” or small sections of neighborhoods, where voters are more likely to support Deeds. Each canvasser covers a specified turf, knocking on the doors of the residents on his or her list.

Larson said the direct contact makes voters feel more in touch with the candidate, and increases the likelihood that they will remember his name when they see it on their ballots.

“Most folks know [Deeds] on a first-name basis, so it’s almost informal, and people don’t feel like we’re there politicking or we’re there trying to sell them anything,” Larson said.  “It’s a real great experience.”

Robbie Day, president of the W&L’s College Democrats, was greeted with enthusiastic support by the residents who answered their doors last Saturday in a neighborhood not far from downtown Lexington.

“You’ve got me,” said one man before Day could introduce himself.  “Oh yeah, I’m going to vote for him,” said another resident.

Larson says the campaign workers are not leaving anything to chance.

“I think it was President Clinton who once said you don’t want to look to the next election because you may not get there,” Larson said.  “So if we are pulling with an advantage, I don’t pretend that we are or we aren’t, but I’m going to treat it like we’re either tied 50-50 or up 51-49.”

Brubaker says the workers hope Deeds receives 65 percent of the vote, which she describes as “a lofty goal.”

“But if anyone can do it,” she said, “it’s this candidate.”