K Street Lobbyists Hit the Campaign Trail in Virginia
Democrats Maureen Walsh and Andy Rosenberg stood on the side of a street in a Northern Virginia subdivision where the hum of Interstate 66 lingered in the background. They studied a rudimentary map of the neighborhood and flipped through pages on a clipboard to brush up on their script.
It was Saturday, a warm autumn afternoon only 10 days before the elections.
The pair, both lobbyists in D.C., was sent by the re-election campaign of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) to use their skills of professional persuasion to convince undecided voters to cast their ballots for Connolly and other Democrats on the ticket in the battleground state. Connolly is facing a challenge from Republican Chris Perkins, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel.
“One of the reasons I’m out here is people will be energized if they are asked personally for their vote,” said Walsh, a director of government relations at ML Strategies.
Walsh has spent the past several weekends walking around her home in Arlington and neighboring Fairfax County, urging voters to support President Barack Obama, Senate candidate and former Gov. Tim Kaine and the local Democratic Members of Congress.
Walsh and Rosenberg didn’t bump into any other K Streeters on their little piece of the campaign trail, but their Republican and Democratic colleagues are out there – and not just in Virginia. Many lobbyists have decamped for Florida, Ohio, Nevada and elsewhere. Some have taken vacation days or, like Walsh and Rosenberg, spend their free weekend time volunteering on a campaign.
Rosenberg, who also lives in Northern Virginia, is no novice to canvassing. He ran for office in 2004. Though he lost the primary to incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), knocking on doors and asking voters for their support became routine.
“You have to see yourself in the context of the bigger campaign,” said Rosenberg, a founder of the bipartisan firm Thorn Run Partners. “Would I rather be at a Halloween party with my little girl? Yeah, but if you believe in it, you know it’s the right thing to do.”
The campaign trail – even one just 24 miles from D.C. – often presents some unexpected bumps along the way, even with the map from the Connolly campaign and the scripted messaging meant to persuade undecided voters or to put the pressure on loyal Democrats to show up at their polling precinct. The first set of addresses turned out to be in a gated community, which is forbidden ground, according to Rosenberg.
So, the duo wound their way through Fairfax office parks, curvy parkways and cul-de-sacs until they hit the corner of Stringfellow Road and Westbrook Drive.
At the first house they visited, a middle-aged woman with accented English said she was undecided. “Honestly, I’m a registered Democrat,” the woman said.
The lobbyists offered their pitch for the Democrats’ agenda on Capitol Hill and the White House: support for Pell grants and women’s health initiatives. And they also lauded Kaine as a governor who slashed budgets. “We think he’s the right choice for Virginia,” Walsh said.
Rosenberg added, “Please vote.”
As they left, the pair jotted down that the target of their pitch was leaning Democratic and leaning toward Obama, Kaine and Connolly. Campaign volunteers will likely follow up with her before Election Day, perhaps with a card on her door reminding her to vote, Rosenberg said.
They crunched their way through fall leaves to other residences. When no one answered, they left behind materials about Connolly portraying him as “pro-business,” a “champion of Metro,” “fiscally responsible” and an “advocate for veterans.” They rolled up the flier and tucked it into the doorknob; putting it in a mailbox is not allowed.
When they arrived at Cecil Hart’s home, they received a welcome response. “I’m doing the full Democratic ticket,” the man said. But when they asked if they could put up a yard sign, he said, “I’ll have to check with the missus.”
Rosenberg and Walsh noted later that, in the neighborhood, they had walked blocks and blocks without seeing any political signs. The lawns were, instead, festooned with mock spider webs and pumpkins for Halloween.
At another home down the street, a white female told Rosenberg, “We’re both undecided but we don’t need any information. We’ve been getting it all in the mail.”
Another potential voter immediately said, “No thanks,” and closed the door.
Walsh said she’s had a door slammed in her face this year. “You can’t take it personally,” she said, shrugging it off.
Off another side street, the duo met a potential voter who had two Mercedes in his garage. “Are you Mr. Sharma?” Rosenberg asked. “Well, do I look like Mrs. Sharma?” the man quipped. In the end, he said he was leaning toward Connolly and was a “definite maybe” to support Democrats at the top of the ticket.
“We’re out here pounding the shoe leather because we believe in it,” Walsh said.
As she approached the home of a 48-year-old white male, Walsh expressed a little trepidation. With the president polling well behind his challenger, Mitt Romney, among men, she said it’s a demographic that is often not interested in hearing a pro-Democratic message.
“That’s why I’m on your doorstop,” she said. “I’m asking for your vote for the Democratic ticket.” Her face erupted in a huge smile when the voter said he intended to support Connolly and other Democrats on the ballot. “Every time I do this, it makes me hopeful,” she said.