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Volunteers put presidential hopefuls’ boots on the ground

ST. LOUIS – In a time of mass media buys and automated calling to voters, volunteers still are the foot soldiers of any political campaign.

They call voters, knock on doors and make oceans of coffee at campaign headquarters. And, as Missourians look forward to finally having their say in the March 10 presidential preference primary, volunteers are at the forefront of the push to win votes and delegates for Democratic candidates.

Lately, they’re adding to the enthusiasm of a hard-fought race for the right to take on Donald Trump in November.

“We think Missouri’s showing a lot of energy,” said Andrew Storey, communications, party affairs and delegate director for the Missouri Democratic Party.

On the day of the Super Tuesday primary, the names of 22 candidates appeared on the ballot, along with one spot for uncommitted delegates. They included candidates who had dropped out, political unknowns and St. Louis’s own perennial candidate, William C. (Bill) Haas.

But, after Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race this weekend and Amy Klobuchar followed suit on Monday, only Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg were left. On Wednesday, after a poor Super Tuesday showing, Bloomberg dropped out also. 

To find out how the volunteer is doing in today’s high-tech races, a reporter interviewed one volunteer each for the campaigns of Biden, Warren, Sanders and Bloomberg. 

The volunteers were interviewed by phone and at the headquarters of three campaigns with offices in the area, Warren, 2721 Sutton Blvd., Maplewood; Sanders, 1820 Washington Ave.; and Bloomberg, 3803 S. Broadway.

Five Republican candidates and one Libertarian candidate were on their parties’ ballots. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld was running as an alternative Republican candidate against Trump. But barring a miracle, Trump will be the runaway winner in his party’s Missouri primary.

The KMOV Missouri presidential primary poll posted on Feb. 25 showed Biden leading with 22.4 percent. Bloomberg had 17.4 percent; Buttigieg, 11 percent; Warren, 10.2 percent; and Klobuchar, 8.8 percent. A total of 17.3 percent were undecided.

Here’s a look at volunteers for the three viable Democratic candidates, along with a volunteer for Bloomberg.

A close friend

Most people learn about candidates from the media or by seeing them at a political rally. Kevin O’Malley got to know his candidate personally as a member of the administration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. O’Malley, 72, is a Clayton resident and a lawyer who, as ambassador to Ireland, worked with Biden. 

“He was interested in Irish issues. He and I would work on those issues together,” said O’Malley, whose volunteer work for Biden includes making speeches around the state. 

“I found him to be a man of great, great integrity. I found him to be someone who is transparent,” O’Malley said. “There is no public Joe Biden or private Joe Biden.”

The slip-ups Biden makes are what anybody would make and are never vicious or mean, O’Malley said. 

Polls show all Democrats, most independents and many establishment Republicans find Biden to be the most attractive Democratic candidate.

Personal experience

Erin Heckler knows about the issues from her own experience being laid off during the financial crisis a decade ago.

Heckler, 38, of the Kings Oak neighborhood, first volunteered at a Warren event last June.

“I was sure the day she announced. I was really excited,” she said.

Heckler, who is an administrator for Washington University, said she was impressed by how Warren had come up with the idea for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before the economic downturn happened in 2008. Warren worked with Obama to set it up before she was elected a U.S. Senator.   

“She saw that this was a big issue and that it would affect the change,” Heckler said in an interview at the local Warren headquarters in Maplewood. “That’s why I wanted to get involved in the campaign, because she can actually get things done.”

Heckler doesn’t think Warren is too far to the left.

“I think that she looks at the issues that affect Americans, and it’s not really a left or right issue,” Heckler said. “Everyone cares about their own bottom line, and they see how big corporations aren’t paying their fair share of taxes while the rest of us are.”

A political family

“My mom was very politically active. From the time I was 10 on, I went to different political protests and stuff,” Simone Cook said in an interview at the local Bernie Sanders headquarters. “This is the first campaign that I’ve actively worked on.”

Cook, 25, a studio coordinator at a marketing and design firm, went to Iowa in January to campaign for Sanders.

“Bernie’s campaign, I truly believe, is for everyone,” said Cook, who lives near Hampton Avenue and Arsenal Street. “It’s not just for the people that have gotten special treatment all those years. It really is for the people that are working.” 

Cook disagrees with the idea that her candidate is too far to the left. 

“People need to reevaluate what they are thinking is too far left,” she said. If people listed what they wanted from the government, “They would be more left than they think,” she said.

For those who think Sanders speaks too loudly, she said, “He’s mad, he’s angry, he’s passionate.”

Likes Bloomberg’s style

Coming from a business background, Laura Hill said, she could appreciate Mike Bloomberg’s style of getting things done. Most importantly, she feels that Bloomberg can beat Donald Trump.

On Saturday morning, Hill, 55, of Imperial was the lone volunteer in a Bloomberg campaign office at 3803 S. Broadway that also contained four paid staff members.

“I have nothing against billionaires and millionaires,” said Hill, who is an accountant for a major St. Louis corporation. “I believe in the capitalist society, but I don’t believe in special interest groups driving the activities and decisions made by our elected officials.”

Hill also said that climate change was an important issue to her.

Hill, who is married and has three children, said that this was her first time working as a political volunteer. She planned to come to work at the office last weekend and next weekend.  

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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