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Social Media to Shoe Leather, N.H. Canvassers for Sanders Aim To Get Out The Vote

Jason Moon / NHPR
A volunteer for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders knocks on a door of a likely N.H. voter.

On a recent Saturday morning at a Bernie Sanders campaign office in Manchester, a group of about 20 volunteer canvassers received a pep talk from Nina Turner, a national co-chair for the Sanders campaign.

“Twitter is wonderful. Instagram is wonderful. Facebook, all of that social media stuff is wonderful. But we cannot win this election with that alone,” said Turner. "We need real people knocking on the doors of other real people and talking to them about what is at stake.”

Near the end of her speech, Turner instructed the group to raise both hands, creating a scene that resembled a religious service.

(Sidebar: In Primary's Final Stretch, Warren Campaign is Keeping Close Tabs on Its Supporters)

“With these hands we will have Medicare for All. With these hands we will cancel college debt, cancel medical debt. With these hands we will restore mother earth.”

Credit Jason Moon / NHPR
Bernie Sanders supporters get a pep talk on how best to canvass.

But to get there, Turner said, these hands first need to knock on some doors.

The volunteers stocked up on flyers, downloaded lists of addresses from the campaign onto their smartphones, and then fanned out across the city. In these final weeks before the primary, the Sanders campaign is telling supporters that this is the single most valuable thing they can do.

One volunteer canvasser, Mary-Ann Bejarano, is taking that message to heart. On Saturday she headed out alone to canvass doors on Manchester’s north end.

Bejarano is in her 60s, she lives in Hooksett, and is deeply committed to the Sanders campaign.

“What he’s telling us is it’s a movement. It has to come from us, because obviously we haven’t been listened to,” said Bejarano.

Bejarano started canvassing for Sanders back in 2016. She was part of the movement that delivered more than 60% of the vote for Sanders in the primary four years ago. Between 2016 and 2020, Bejarano estimates she’s gone out door-knocking more than 50 times for the Vermont senator.

When asked if she could imagine doing the same for another candidate, her response is swift.

“No. No, this has to be – no, for any of the other candidates? No. No.”

After visiting each door, Bejarano entered information into an app on her phone. Did the voter answer the door? What candidate are they supporting? What issues did they talk about? The Sanders campaign says it has data on more than 50,000 New Hampshire voters so far thanks to volunteer canvassers.

But on Saturday it was slow going. Only a handful of people answered their doors and conversations ended quickly with polite no thank you’s.

But experience has taught Bejarano not to get too disappointed. She carried on, trudging through slushy sidewalks, knocking on door after door, and expertly wedging the Sanders campaign flyer between door knobs and door frames so as to keep them from falling on the ground.

“I know most people throw them away. I know that. But your hope is that there’s that one person,” said Bejarano.

But the Sanders New Hampshire campaign isn’t betting only on the enthusiasm of super-volunteers like Bejarano.

To win, they’ll also need to turn out a key-constituency for Sanders on election day: young people. A recent WBUR poll found Sanders has the support of 52% of Democratic voters under 30 in New Hampshire. He also recently won the endorsement of the New Hampshire Youth Movement.

But historically, getting young people to actually vote is a challenge.

Credit Jason Moon / NHPR
Volunteers pick up campaign literature before hitting the campaign trail.

At a recent Sanders rally in Exeter, Sanders campaign staff had voters check-in by answering questionnaires on laptops set up near the entrance.

"There was definitely an emphasis on kind of a younger crowd and younger volunteers,” said Jessica Dunham, who’s in her mid-30s. “It was the questions about the students, if you’d be interested in hosting a student group at your school, stuff like that.”

Young or old, starting Tuesday the Sanders campaign will switch from trying to persuade voters to making sure those they’ve identified as supporters get out and vote on primary day.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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