By Nicholas Johnson of the Leader
Most candidates for Jefferson County elected offices rely on canvassing, going door-to-door, to connect with voters, some dedicating hundreds, if not thousands, of hours walking through neighborhoods.
Beyond listening to and learning about individual concerns, many come away with humorous and heart-warming tales from the campaign trail.
That spurred the Leader to ask candidates about their experiences going door-to-door and just how effective they feel that effort has been.
Nearly all candidates did some degree of canvassing, though at least one, PUD commissioner candidate Tony DeLeo, opted out entirely. Sheriff candidate Dave Stanko is the only candidate who did not respond to the Leader's questions about canvassing.
Both candidates for District 3 commissioner said they began campaigning in April, with Dan Toepper of Port Ludlow treating the effort like a full-time, 60-hour-per-week job and Kathleen Kler of Quilcene committing “no less than 8 hours a day, 6 days a week since March 18.”
“I have found I've enjoyed doorbelling more than I expected I would,” Toepper said while walking along Flamingo Road off Discovery Road on Oct. 22. “I can count on one hand the number of negative experiences I've had.”
Kler said she was surprised by how many people did not have specific complaints about the county.
“Because I am attuned to listening to problems in order to find solutions, I needed to pay attention to those who had nothing negative to say,” said Kler, who began with District 3 before the primary election, eventually covering all three districts and all precincts before slowing down in the past two weeks. “My time here to Nov. 4 will be spent making phone calls to those who have yet to turn in their ballots.”
Toepper also said he has canvassed throughout the county, including the West End, and is beginning to slow down as Nov. 4 nears and ballots trickle in. He said he has encountered some things he didn't expect, such as men answering the door naked or, in one case, wearing nothing more than a pair of SpongeBob SquarePants boxer briefs.
Toepper said he has found most people express concerns that impact them specifically, rather than bringing up big-picture issues. He said canvassing might be the most effective way for a candidate to convey who they are to voters, most of whom have never met the person wanting their vote.
“Doorbelling is the best way to take your campaign into your own hands,” he said, adding that many people seemed to like that he is running without political party affiliation. “The newspapers can print what they want, but out here is where I can make my case.”
Kler said canvassing provides a more personalized opportunity to discuss issues and connect more personally with voters.
“The only way for this dialogue to happen is for candidates to walk and talk,” she said.
Candidates generally reported that someone comes to the door about 60 percent of the time and, of those who answer the door, about 10 percent engage in some level of discussion.
Toepper said many people cherish their privacy so they shy away from prolonged discussion at the front door, but some reach out later by phone or email with more specific questions.
Kler said she heard concern about confusing regulations and a slow permitting process, as well as the fate of parks and recreation.
Incumbent Scott Rosekrans of Port Townsend said since June he has tried to go door-to-door every day at the lunch hour and after work, as well as weekends, hitting an estimated 3,700 homes. He said since the Pierce murder trial started back up in Kitsap County, he hasn't had time to continue canvassing.
“Aside from a few, everyone was very appreciative that I was making the effort,” Rosekrans said. “Many who had moved here recently from out-of-state were impressed that local politicians came to their door.”
Challenger Michael Haas of Port Townsend said between his law practice and raising a family of four children, “you really start feeling squeezed.” He said he never goes door-to-door before noon or past dark and considers the dinner hour off limits.
“Sometimes you feel like you aren't doing any of the three very well,” he said of balancing his job, family and campaign.
Rosekrans said he's gotten pretty good at determining what type of dog someone has based on its bark. Haas said he has learned to be ready to chase down peoples' pets.
“I figure if you lose someone's dog, you'll also lose their vote,” he said.
If a yard is adorned with a Rosekrans campaign sign, Haas said he knocks on the door anyway.
“I still want to them know who I am,” he said. “You never know why someone supports the other candidate.”
Rosekrans said when people ask what he likes most about the job, he points to drug court and mental health court. Haas said mental health is the top concern he hears about, as well as the cost of the Pierce murder trial.
While moving house-to-house outside Kala Point on Oct. 26, Haas said he is a bit of an introvert and has warmed up to canvassing during this election season.
“I've become more confident with all of this,” he said. “And my cardiovascular health has improved drastically.”
Both candidates for district court judge said most everyone politely welcomed them.
Incumbent Jill Landes of Port Townsend said she began canvassing after the primary election and did so during evenings and on weekends due to daytime court duties.
“I have spent as much time as I could campaigning,” she said. “I did not do as much doorbelling as I would have liked.”
Challenger Cheryl Potebnya of Port Ludlow said she has been able to treat campaigning like a full-time job, having resigned as a deputy prosecutor with the county in the fall of 2013.
Potebnya makes use of voter registration precinct lists and a precinct map, allowing her to closely track which neighborhoods and specific houses she's visited. Unlike some candidates, she sets out to keep a steady pace, not getting into conversations unless someone initiates one themselves.
“It's about coverage,” she said while walking along Lopez Avenue in Port Townsend. “You can't at every house for too long. There are thousands to visit.”
Landes said canvassing gives voters a chance to meet candidates face-to-face and get to know the person behind the name.
“I really don’t know if it is effective,” she said. “My thought is that it can’t hurt.”
“For me it's an uphill battle to get my name out there, to get people to recognize me,” she said being the challenger.
Potebnya said she was advised at the outset to carry dog biscuits, which she said she reserves for those moments in which she's being chased. Overall, she said she enjoys walking about the county's various neighborhoods.
“The campaign trail can be dusty,” she said. “You're always on. It can really wear you down. I find doorbelling uplifting. It raises your spirits.”
Both candidates for auditor said they've spent hundreds of hours going door-to-door, with Judy Maves-Klatt of Port Ludlow reporting an estimated 650 hours and Rose Ann Carroll of Port Townsend reporting an estimated 700 hours. Both said they've campaigned around full-time jobs.
While Carroll said she has received no questions about the auditor's office, Maves-Klatt said voters she's visited say they want fair elections, no voter-identification laws and south county residents want to feel they're being heard by elected officials.
“People want to make informed choices when they vote,” Maves-Klatt said, adding that “they love their pets and their gardens.”
Carroll said she has learned that the county's demographics really are weighted toward the elderly and said she has been well received.
“People in general have been cordial, willing to listen and [have] thanked us for bringing the information to them,” she said.
Public utility district commissioner candidate Tony DeLeo of Port Hadlock said he promised voters he would not come to their door and has kept that promise.
“I have never appreciated someone coming to my door uninvited, be it to sell encyclopedias or 'selling' a political candidate,” said DeLeo, who added that he has been able to interact with voters at forums, the annual county fair and county picnic. “I try to treat others the way I want to be treated, so that knock at the door wasn't me.”
DeLeo also said his 40 years serving as a public hospital district commissioner as well as working in retail have provided valuable insights.
Candidate Ken Collins of Marrowstone Island said canvassing has been the best part his campaign. He said he spent about 250 hours canvassing prior to the primary election and another 250 hours afterward.
“I have learned that people in Jefferson County have a strong sense of community and responsibility for the less fortunate,” said Collins, adding that many were well informed and had read about low-income families whose power had been turned off. “They want PUD policies to reflect this.”
He said he has been able to educate older women living on Social Security, young women with children and a disabled veteran about a state law protecting them from having their power turned off during winter months.
“I believe doorbelling is highly effective because people get the message that you care about their vote,” he said. “It was very gratifying to me to be able to help some people in the process of campaigning.”
Sheriff candidate Dave Stanko of Port Townsend did not respond to the Leader's questions about canvassing.
Candidate Wendy Davis of Port Ludlow estimated spending more than 1,000 hours canvassing on weekends since filing her candidacy, while also working full-time.
Davis said going door-to-door allowed her to connect with voters more personally.
“Advertising, printed literature, social media, e-mails and forums are great ways to spread my message, too, although it may not always be the best way to truly connect with voters,” she said, acknowledging that with support from the Jefferson County Democratic Party she had roughly a dozen team members helping her. “This is true democracy in action and I believe it is a vital part of successful campaigning.”
Davis, like other candidates, said she was well received, with one woman inviting her inside with a big hug and spending 20 minutes taking photos with Davis on her front porch.
While speaking with a man at his front door near Blue Heron School, the man's young daughter came to the door and complimented Davis' shoes, then proceeded to follow Davis through the neighborhood.