Trump vs Clinton: Virginia campaigners make last push

Republicans and Democrats go door-to-door, equally determined to make their candidate win the race for the White House.

ALice Butler-Short
Alice Butler-Short says she gets more thumbs-up than middle fingers as she drives along [Jessica Sarhan/Al Jazeera]

Arlington, Virginia, United States – It was a busy weekend at Jim Presswood’s House. The chairman of Arlington’s Republican Party was receiving local volunteers to coordinate the last few days of campaigning before Tuesday’s presidential election.

Upon arrival, volunteers were presented with leaflets and maps of the local area, then given instructions on the best methods for going door-to-door to campaign.

“You ask them, ‘If the election was today – who would you vote for, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?'” deputy precinct operations director Dustin Hodges told one volunteer.

The small group of participants packed into Presswood’s living room and awaited further instructions. Among them was 58-year-old retired civil servant Jim Scarborough.

With his white beard, check shirt and bright red “Make America Great Again” hat, Scarborough said it has been a difficult year of campaigning.

“This year people are voting against a candidate, rather than for one. It’s tough, but Trump is for America first,” he said.

With 13 electoral college votes as stake, Virginia has become the latest battleground in the race to the White House.

In what is historically a Republican state, President Barack Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964, and the Clinton campaign is positive it can happen again.

With a surge in volunteers and a vice-presidential running mate from Virginia, Clinton campaign officials told Al Jazeera that they are “optimistic” about their chances of victory.

State polls give Clinton a seven-point lead over her Republican counterpart. However, the Trump campaign is not giving up yet – in late October, it announced a $2m buy-in for TV advertisements across Virginia.

“For decades Virginia was a reliably Republican state,” said Dr Stephen J Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “However, in 2008 and 2012, Virginia demonstrated that it’s one of the key swing states, and it keeps that role in 2016.”

Bill Clayton will campaign for Clinton until polls close on Tuesday [Jessica Sarhan/Al Jazeera]
Bill Clayton will campaign for Clinton until polls close on Tuesday [Jessica Sarhan/Al Jazeera]

Alice Butler-Short, 73, is used to making an entrance. In the bed of her bright red truck – which she named “The Donald” – is a large billboard that reads: “Virginia Women for Trump”, the name of the group that she founded in October 2015.

“It’s a sensation,” she said. “As we drive down the highway we get 90 percent more thumbs-up than we get middle fingers!”

For Butler-Short, the last days leading up to the election are the last chance for a real change. She said she typically works from 7am until 2am while campaigning for the Republican candidate. Originally from Ireland, she left her home of County Tipperary when she was 18, emigrating to the US.

“There has never been such passion and enthusiasm for a candidate as there is for Donald J Trump,” she said in Irish-tinged accent. “My mission has been to bring women from all ethnic backgrounds together for Mr Trump and it’s been so successful.”

Butler-Short said it was Trump’s “authenticity” and “strength of character” that inspired her the most. And while she is confident that the election will be a “landslide” in the Republican’s favour, she is urging people to get out and vote.

“This is a time like no other. This election is the most important election in our lifetime,” she proclaimed, before adding that her fear of America moving away from religion meant “we are just one bad election away from losing our entire way of life”.

READ MORE: Can Trump sway women in suburban Philadelphia?

Like Butler-Short, Charles Hernick, the Republican candidate running for Congress in Virginia’s District 8, has had a busy couple of days, but he is still keen to meet as many voters as possible before Tuesday.

“For me, voter contact is still at the top of the list,” he told Al Jazeera.

Not seen as typical among his party, the candidate is an environmental consultant, a supporter of gay marriage and a social media master, which he says fits well with the “young, diverse and well-educated” community of northern Virginia.

And while he acknowledges that “the negativity of the presidential campaign” has resulted in “some fatigue” among voters, he is also meeting those he describes as “wildly supportive”.

Fran Middleberg tells volunteers what to do in different door-knocking situations [Jessica Sarhan/Al Jazeera]
Fran Middleberg tells volunteers what to do in different door-knocking situations [Jessica Sarhan/Al Jazeera]

At a home in nearby Alexandria, Fran Middleberg, canvas captain for the city’s Democrats, is training local volunteers before they set out to go door-to-door in their last campaign efforts.

The diverse group of volunteers – retirees, millennials, Hispanic, white, African-American – congregate in the kitchen as Middleberg conducts a role-play exercise for three scenarios: if volunteers knock on the door of a Clinton supporter; if they encounter a Trump supporter; and if they greet an undecided voter.

It is all part of the Clinton campaign’s Get Out the Vote drive.

“We want to make sure voters have all the information they need for Tuesday; where they’re going to vote, how they’re going to get there, things like that,” Middleberg said.

For volunteers, meeting a Clinton supporter meant coming up with a plan for election day, while for Trump supporters, volunteers were advised to politely thank the voter and then leave.

In case they meet undecided voters, Middleberg enthusiastically told volunteers, “Mark their names down, ‘cause we’re coming back!”

OPINION: Hillary Clinton and the ‘woman card’

For Middleberg, the election has a very personal feel too. “As a little girl, I used to watch the State of the Union address and just see men everywhere, and over the years, I’ve seen more and more women,” she said.

Starting to tear up, she added: “Women are now significant representatives in our government and I know Hillary Clinton is going to make an amazing president.”

Volunteer Bill Clayton, 81, will be canvassing right up until polls close on Tuesday. He said he is excited that Clinton has maintained the lead in Virginia.

“We’re hearing it’s tightening,” he said, “but we feel good here.” 

Starr Warren, 17, cannot legally vote yet, but she wanted to help the campaign any way she could. For her, the idea of having a female president is exciting.

“I play on a boys’ football team and I’m seeing lots of women do what people say only men can do. Hillary Clinton inspires that, she’s wonderful,” she said.

As the volunteers trickled out of the kitchen, Mario Velasquez, precinct captain in Alexandria, told Al Jazeera: “I’m a Latino, so it’s in my self-interest, in addition to being a Democrat, to have Hillary be our next president.”

Wearing a T-shirt that read “Hillary for Old Town Alexandria”, he said: “Our country is calling on us once again, for all of us to make the right decision, just like we did during the War of Independence; just like we did during the Civil War; and this is one of those moments where we have to elect Hillary.”

Starr Warren is not old enough to vote but excited at the prospect of a female president [Jessica Sarhan/Al Jazeera]
Starr Warren is not old enough to vote but excited at the prospect of a female president [Jessica Sarhan/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera