Inside Hillary Clinton’s Richmond campaign office
It’s been a hot August in Richmond, but the Hilary Clinton campaign office, located in Scott’s Addition across from Richard’s Gentlemen’s club, is surprisingly cool; there’s more than enough people in the room to increase temperatures from body heat alone.
The office, in line with most Scott’s Addition buildings, is a converted garage with giant roll up doors still intact as if a 96 Mercury Grand Marquis could roll in for body work at any moment. There’s colorful handprinted signs on the walls with every opportunity for “Hillary” and “RVA” to be slammed together for the sake of aesthetic and promotional value. With about 15 people making phone calls or talking in groups, it’s not exactly a quiet place, and things appear to be getting done.
For many of the volunteers it’s their first day or their first few weeks, but for Regional Organizing Director Brandon Cox, this journey started about a year and a half ago at the Iowa caucuses when he was first called on to join team HRC.
“There’s a lot on our minds – we take this stuff deadly serious,” Cox said. “With some of the rhetoric from the other side, people see what’s at stake so the motivation is a little more, which is great.”
Motivation is key at elections. It’s what helped Trump win earlier this year, getting folks who often hadn’t participated in the political process into voting booths during usually banal primaries.
And for Hillary campaign volunteers it’s the same. There’s a similar kind of Trump-fueled motivation in the air, even though they oppose the controversial candidate.
“[Trump] talks about bringing all the trade back home and yet all of his brands are made elsewhere,” said Jill Marks, a West End resident who was making calls trying to recruit more volunteers for the RVA office. “He talks about helping the economy yet he builds these corporate empires, bankrupts them, pulls the money out of the top and leaves the little man hanging.”
As for Hillary, it’s her history and political background that got Marks (pictured above to the right), who claimed to have worked with the Republican party in local elections in the past, to spend her free time helping the candidate.
“You look at her history and you look at his history… She has tried to help women. She has tried to help children. She is trying to help most of us. She’s succeeded in some cases as well,” she said.
But she was also quick to clarify, “to tell you the truth, I like Bernie Sanders a lot.”
The anti-Trump and luke-warm feelings for the former Secretary of State were a recurring theme among volunteers that day, but that didn’t stop teams from venturing out into the baking sun in the name of HRC.
Out on Belle Isle, riding a “mobile voter registration unit” bicycle over the park’s rough trails, former New Jersey resident Jason Tesauro and his infant son Julian (pictured below) were registering voters for the Hillary camp.
This is the first time Tesauro, a published writer by trade, has been so involved in a campaign. He said he had to speak up this time for the sake of his five kids and their future.
“I look at [the Presidency] through the lens of competency and wisdom… There has never been a more capable candidate.” he said about Hillary. “It’s almost, regardless of what you think of her as a woman, as a politician, look at her as a human being who’s been imbued with a unique skill set that had set her up to jump into that seat and from day one know what she’s doing and have the temperance to be measured.”
Tesauro is uniquely qualified to judge people on temperance, he’s written several books on manners and etiquette.
“Civility has become short supply. And when that goes out the window, when people are talking about ‘no filter’ or ‘he says what he means’ there is a reason we have filters,” he said. “Those filters are meant for us take an extra second and say ‘how do I frame this so that it’s a win for all of us.’”
Still, for others, like Dr. Patricia Aldridge, a lifelong Democrat and resident of South Richmond, this year’s election is about old issues.
She was born just as segregation was ending and integration was getting into full swing. She remembered going to NASCAR events with her parents and having to sit on the grass instead of the bleachers.
“I always thought it was fun sitting on the bleachers and I asked why we can’t sit up there,” she said. “My parents never said ‘we can’t go up there,’ they said ‘we’re having fun down here with our picnic basket.’ I didn’t really understand it until I started learning about it in schools.”
Aldridge (pictured above), who opened our interview by saying “God first, Hillary second. And then Tim,” said she believes Hillary and Kaine’s election would lead to real change for people like her.
“Those are the two individuals who can make a difference and I believe, that their platform, I think we’re on the right road for all people, not just Black people, but all people.” she said.
Still wearing her church clothes after attending Broad Run Baptist Church earlier in the day, Aldridge said she started volunteering with the campaign about three weeks ago after getting a phone call from a Democratic organizer asking her to help out.
“I always felt that it was my duty, just like serving jury duty, you’re called on, but you don’t have a choice with that. But this, I do have a choice,” she said. “So my choice is to come out and help and support the Democratic party.”
Aldridge has a unique view as an educator as well – she’s a Department head at Virginia State University – she gets to see the coveted youth vote in action during her day-to-day activity.
While most of her students are away for the season, some are still taking summer classes, but she said she’s seen voter registration booths on the Petersburg campus already this year.
“A lot of students felt pride in being an American because they were able to vote for the first time,” she said about the 2012 race which saw record numbers of young people and minorities coming out to vote specifically for Obama. And among those young voters were Aldridge’s sons who got to vote for the first time.
“I didn’t have to tell them to get up,” she said. “When I got to the polls, they were already there in line.”
Aldridge said she hopes Hillary and Kaine can capitalize on that momentum, and so far it looks like she has more support from young folks and minorities than Trump – by leaps and bounds.
Speaking of the young vote, Parker Lazear, a 16-years-old Richmond resident, was also traversing Belle Isle that hot August day in search of registering new voters. With clip board in hand, she was beyond enthused to be part of the political process even if she wasn’t old enough to vote yet.
“I think it’s a historic election… so I wanted to be a part of it,” she said, noting she’s part of a leadership and global economics program at her school. “Politics are a big part of my life. I have fun doing it. I like going around and registering people to vote. You get to be a part of the community.”
Lazear (pictured above) said she’s been using Pokestops, part of the virally succesful Pokemon Go game, to help locate young folks and get them registered.
I asked the young volunteer with political stars in her eyes if she sees any kind of role model in Hillary Clinton.
“Obviously I’m very for the history woman election, but a lot of it is about what she says and what she stands for vs. the other side,” she said. “Which is not the best.”
The steam behind that day’s HRC volunteers may be more against the message of her opponent than pro-Hillary, but that doesn’t mean the strategy won’t work.
Ravi Perry, an Ass. Professor of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, said opposition votes can be viable, but the concern often lies with where those opposition votes end up.
“There are still voices out there, particularly in progressive spaces, that may consider a vote for someone other than Hillary as also an anti-trump vote,” Perry said. “It’s one of her main challenges right now.”
Hillary continues to suffer from high “unfavorable” numbers, 53% vs. Trump’s even worse 66 here in Virginia according to a recent Washington Post poll, and that could swing votes toward third party candidates like the Green Party’s Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson.
“Because of their distaste for Hillary as a long-time public official,” Perry said, “We aren’t sure if that’s going to be enough for her to ensure victory.”
Nailing down the youth vote is also something HRC needs to keep in mind, and while she continues to dominate nationally among young voters, they are a group that historically stays home in November.
“Even if she gets a large portion of those who come out to vote, it can create some problems for here in key states where she needs resounding victories,” Perry said. “But it is unlikely that young people will vote in large numbers for any other candidates”
For those interested in getting involved with the Hillary Campaign here in RVA, you can head over to their office, 1726 Altamont Avenue Richmond, VA 23230.
GayRVA has reached out to the Trump campaign in the hopes of following them around for a day as well, and we’ll let you know if and when they respond. Until then, check back with GayRVA for more Election 2016 coverage.
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