BRICK, N.J. — First house, knock, knock, nobody answers.
Second house, nobody.
Third house on Driscol Drive — whoops — a wee bit of hostility awaits Laura Docherty and Jud Wampole, first-time political canvassers for Democrat Andy Kim in Ocean County, the half of the Third Congressional District considered a stronghold of Kim's opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur.
Their only previous experience was trying to fight a Super Wawa in their Brick neighborhood. Wawa won.
"I'll be honest with you," says the woman peeking out the half-opened door. "I do not like what the Democrats are doing to President Trump. I think they're being very unfair. I tend to vote mostly Republican."
A few houses later, the opposite:
"I'm not a Republican, don't worry about that," says a man with glasses perched on his brow. "I'm done with them."
On this crisp October Sunday, Docherty, 62, and Wampole, 67, soldier on like early trick-or-treaters in the circular maze of this Jersey Shore mainland neighborhood off Route 70, seeking out the voters who will decide whether the Republican MacArthur or his challenger, Kim, will win the seat, potentially playing a role in whether Democrats win control of the House of Representatives.
The husband-and-wife team's 43 doors were part of an astonishing 17,000 the Kim campaign says were knocked on this one weekend by more than 300 volunteers throughout Burlington and Ocean Counties in the closing weeks of a closely watched congressional race, with volunteers coming from down and up the Garden State Parkway and from over the bridge from Philly. The race is considered tight.
About 4,780 doors were actually opened, the campaign said.
‘I don’t share’
At the next few houses, an early favorite emerges: Officially Not Telling
"I"m real anti-Trump, but not totally, but I don't talk politics," says a woman through a screen door.
"I'm going to vote, but I don't share," another woman says.
"Do you feel OK about sharing whether or not you're going to vote for Andy?" Wampole asks another.
"No. No, I do not."
"People are afraid to say how they're voting," says Docherty, 62, a newly retired social worker from Brick.
And so it went for Docherty and Wampole, as they knocked on doors — "knocked doors" in the current political patois — in Ocean County, braving doors filled with signs of Halloween caution — "You will be very afraid" — a general wariness, lots of cute dogs, and a range of voter commitment. Also, in an echo of a district that feeds to two different media markets and encompasses most of two counties, Ocean and Burlington, that have little in common: Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants banners.
"This is a brand-new thing for us," Docherty says to one would-be voter. "Go easy on us."
Docherty and Wampole met
Kim, 36, a former national security adviser under President Barack Obama who grew up in Marlton, at a meet-and-greet, and as new recipients of Social Security and Medicare decided to hit the canvass trail. "We've always felt strongly about things but never taken action, never personally gone out and done anything," Docherty said.
But here they are, part of an army of similar canvassers hitting the streets of suburban swing districts such as New Jersey's Third as this consequential election closes in, aided by local organizations such as South Jersey Women for Progressive Change, and national groups such as Move On and Swing Left, which allow volunteers to plug in their zip codes to find the nearest opportunities.
Uncle Dood’s Donuts and Piper Perabo
Philadelphia zip codes direct you to New Jersey's Third on behalf of Kim.
Several dozen people met up at the Toms River home of Sharron Greenberg, who has been hosting canvassing events every weekend. On this day, she's got a celebrity: the actress Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs, Cheaper by the Dozen), who grew up in Toms River and showed up with doughnuts from her favorite local shop, Uncle Dood's.
"Ocean County is very, very, very red," said Greenberg's friend Christine Luland, who comes every Sunday. "Enough people are kind of frustrated with how things are going, that may well change."
It's not quite enemy territory, as their lists target Democratic and independent voters, and the goal is to get potential Kim voters to commit to voting.
That weekend, the Burlington County GOP headed out canvassing on behalf of MacArthur and other Republican candidates in a mirror image in what's considered more favorable territory for Kim. The weekend before, the group said in a Facebook post, they'd knocked on 8,500 doors on behalf of Republican candidates. The MacArthur campaign did not supply overall canvassing numbers despite repeated requests.
The Kim campaign tracks canvassing efforts with pages of voter lists that ask volunteers to check a box recording their efforts and the response — boxes ranging from "Strong Kim" to "Lean Kim" to "Undecided" to "Lean MacArthur" to "Strong MacArthur" and "Not Voting."
Docherty and Wampole noted the need for "Not Telling" to be added to the list.
The emphasis on old-fashioned door knocking has swept through Democratic campaigns and allied organizations. Forrest Rilling, a Kim spokesman, said the campaign had already knocked on 170,000 doors and was on track to knock on 230,000 by Nov. 6, Election Day. That's more than the 186,103 total votes cast in the district for Congress in the last midterm election, in 2014, when MacArthur was first elected.
‘I thought you did good, honey’
Docherty and Wampole find their stride as they weave around the course plotted by the Kim campaign, house by house.
"I thought you did good, honey," she says.
To the Republican voter, Docherty says: "Even if you vote all Republican and pick Kim, it'll have been worth it for us to do this."
They find a like-minded voter (and fellow Eagles fan) in teacher Dania Bober, returning with groceries with daughters Sadie, 10, and Evelyn, 7.
Kim, Wampole says, "is somebody who's concerned about us and the people here, not the people who already have too much money."
"Enjoy Halloween." he adds.
With Jimmy Davis, a Turnpike Authority worker mad at both former Gov. Chris Christie over pension issues and President Trump, they have a discussion about politics that ends with a sad story. Davis' daughter recently died from a drug overdose.
They start, but then agree not to talk about Christie.
Davis says he's a definite Kim voter.
"I've been getting a lot of his stuff," Davis notes. "They spend so much money on this stuff through the mail."
"They told us that going around like this is better," Docherty says. "That you talk to someone face to face and say, 'Hey listen.'"
"He's very down to earth," Docherty says of Kim. "All the things we really believe strongly in, he's behind, so we thought we're going to get out there and canvass, even though we don't know what we're doing."
They all agree they'd prefer if people of both parties "still felt as though they could talk to one another," as Wampole puts it.
At another house, they meet a woman who has never
voted. They leave a voter registration application.
Her father comes around the front yard with a spray can of ammonia for the plants. This being New Jersey, he is another disgruntled Turnpike Authority worker.
They talk about the Exit Zero Jazz Fest in Cape May, and why they all can't afford to move there. And how the state messed up the turnpike workers' pensions. The man says he tends to just vote for whoever is not currently in office, on the theory that once they get to Washington, it's all downhill. "The guy that's in there, I'll vote for the next guy," he says. Wampole checks the "Strong Andy" box.