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In Primary's Final Stretch, Warren Campaign Is Keeping Close Tabs On Its Supporters

Sarah Gibson / NHPR
Elizabeth Warren supporters at a recent N.H. campaign event.

Like many presidential campaigns, the campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren deploys lots of tools to try to educate and inform its volunteers. There are policy books, fliers, and, for the past four months in Concord, there's night school.

Volunteers gather in Warren's Concord campaign office to attend a monthly policy night school hosted by volunteer and D.C. attorney Bill Rubin. In it, Rubin delves deep into one of Warren’s policy proposals. Tonight, it’s corruption.

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“The purpose of this really is, when you’re talking to other voters about Elizabeth, to know about her policies,” he explains. “She has a lot of policies. I know they’re fairly dense.”

The presentation is also dense: There’s more than an hour of powerpoint slides full of numbers. But at the end, Rubin reminds volunteers that the best way to build support is to get out and knock on doors.

“No matter what the polls say, most people are still undecided or may change their minds,” he says, “So we need to be there talking to them when they change their minds.”

Warren has spent over a year investing in a grassroots campaign in New Hampshire that focuses on consistent contact with voters through social media and in person. Her key messages — returning power to the people, and achieving "big, structural change" through policy - imbue the campaign, be it in a policy night school at one of the 17 state campaign offices, or in volunteers’ door-knocking strategy.

“What moves most of us are heart to heart conversations — that our own ideas are heard and seen,” says night school attendee and longtime door-knocker Kim Gillis.

Until recently, the script for canvassers has been focused less on asking people to vote for Warren, and more on asking them about their top concerns for the country. In essence: What keeps you up at night?

“People will often say health care, sometimes getting money out of politics or corruption,” says Gillis.

"What moves most of us are heart to heart conversations - that our own ideas are heard and seen."

“I say: ‘Of course she has a plan for that!’ ” she laughs.

Once Gillis learns the top issues for a voter, she marks that in a version of the campaign app, MiniVAN, which other Democratic campaigns also use. The next person to contact this same voter picks up where Gillis left off, discussing the issue and what Warren would do to fix it.

To really understand how the Warren campaign is targeting voters, you have to visit one of her town halls.

At a recent one in Milford, volunteers armed with clipboards line the entrance, asking everyone to sign in via text. Once signed in, voters get a picture of Bailey, Warren’s golden retriever who frequently accompanies her to New Hampshire.

These events aren’t just pep rallies; they’re methodical organizing tools. Roger Lau, Warren's national campaign manager, says after collecting attendee’s information, the campaign typically texts them within an hour of the event.

Credit Sarah Gibson / NHPR
After more than a year of organizing grassroots support and outreach, presidential hopefuls are now making their closing arguments in New Hampshire.

And then there’s the selfie line.

Lau says they take advantage of this line, where people can number in the hundreds, to get a pulse on what’s important to voters and recruit supporters.

“So while people are waiting in line, it’s an incredible opportunity for our organizers to engage with them again: ‘Hey, what did you think about the town hall? Hey, that was a great question you asked about climate change. Can we share with you the senator’s plan? Hey, can we sign you up for a shift?’ ”

Lau says the line also creates an "instant feedback loop" with Warren, who, after talking to hundreds of voters in the selfie line, often sends a memo to campaign staff about the policy plans and issues that seem to be resonating most with voters.

Once people express interest in the Warren campaign, they get a lot of attention. Sporting a long, gray beard and a T-shirt with a satellite photo of the Earth, retired postal worker Michael Ward, of Nashua, says he originally supported former Vice President Joe Biden. But then he met some Warren staffers at a local Democratic event. Hey says they asked him out for coffee and eventually convinced him to become a canvasser for the first time in his life.

“This is my maiden voyage,” he laughs.

When he’s not going door to door, Ward, like a number of Warren volunteers, connects to the campaign app and calls from home.

“Oh, it’s great,” he says. “I’m comfortable in my fuzzy slippers and jammies, sitting at my computer, just talking the issues with the voters.”

And in the final weeks of the campaign, Ward’s script is changing. Canvassers are moving away from open-ended discussion of the issues and towards a clear pitch: that whatever a voter’s concern, Warren has a plan for it, and she’s the best choice on Primary Day.

And if that voter is all in for Warren, Ward will ask them to volunteer, just like him, to get out the vote.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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