Steuart Pittman stood in the middle of Southview Drive in Cape St. Claire one recent Sunday afternoon, examining the map given him by the political canvass organizer. Twenty or so scattered red dots marked the homes of registered voters he hoped would vote for him to be the next Anne Arundel County Executive. He flipped through the pages of addresses, getting his bearings. Pittman chose his first house, one with three cars in the driveway, and approached the door to knock.
At a time when Americans seem more comfortable confronting political discord on social media than on their front porch, a real, living, breathing political candidate appearing at the door, to some county residents, seemed an unexpected and curious surprise.
One middle-aged woman opened the door of her rancher with a cooking apron over her clothes. Once she heard Pittman was a Democrat, she told him he had her vote, but had to get back to the onions and garlic on the stove. He thanked her.
A heavy-set gentleman of retirement age stood on his front lawn refilling a bird feeder. The potential voter sized up the tall, slender candidate carrying a bag of campaign leaflets and gave Pittman a head nod, signaling permission to approach.
The man scooped up bird seed and filled the feeders while Pittman explained he is the Democrat running for county executive. Pittman said a few more lines before they parted ways.
Candidates have pursued votes by door knocking since there have been candidates and voters. The political hopefuls plot a route of houses inhabited by likely voters and ask them to go to the polls for them on the big day. Varied reactions from residents ensue, but nonetheless, connections are made. That Sunday afternoon was no different.
Before Sunday, Pittman hadn’t been door-knocking since the mid-90s when he was working with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. It was a regular part of his job to canvass middle to low income neighborhoods surveying residents in a similar way. The best type of interaction, Pittman said, was when someone would invite him into their home, and he would be able to truly hear their concerns.
This was his first canvass as a candidate, and the community-organizer-turned-horse-farmer admitted he felt rusty. Yet, he more frequently asked voters their opinions on his rounds than he asked for their vote.
Today, voters get to know their politicians through Facebook advertising and political opinions are comfortably or uncomfortably shared on social media, but rarely in the driveway. A candidate walking door-to-door seems a throwback to a less digital age, but to date, no one has yet invented an app that replaces shaking hands and looking a candidate in the eye.
Annapolis Democrats put Gavin Buckley in the mayor’s office last November by greeting thousands of Annapolitans face-to-face and asking for their vote. Anne Arundel County candidates are hoping supporters will help them build the same momentum.
Many times Pittman was met by excited and jumpy dogs at the door. He did his best to speak over the four-legged non-voters’ excitement. Sometimes the owner stepped beyond the threshold and closed the door behind them to hear Pittman’s pitch and other times just held on to the dog’s collar, looking for a way out of anything politics. One man practically begged Pittman not to keep him at the door. He had an infant, he said.
Next, Pittman made his way up the hill on Round Top Drive where he found some willing listeners.
A twenty-something woman wanted to know Pittman’s position on education and plans for the county school system. Pittman told her he wanted to prioritize school funding and increase teacher pay.
Several doors down, Pittman asked another woman, a Severna Park High School teacher, her concerns. The two discussed traffic congestion, the over-development of Route 2 and the overcrowding in the schools. Pittman noted her son was already on his registered voter list at age 17, impressive, and the candidate and the voter conversed, like neighbors.
Brenda Wintrode is a freelance reporter for The Arundel Patriot.
Kelly Price edited this article.
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