My grandson James, 12, and I drove from Old Orchard Beach to Lewiston, Maine, yesterday. Our mission: To help Jared Golden win his bid to represent the state’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
We arrived early at 124 Lisbon Street and checked in with Emily Manter, the field organizer I’d been emailing in preparation for our visit. She briefed us and five other volunteers and distributed clipboards with voter lists organized into walkable routes.
Emily told us the race is close. Incumbent Congressman Bruce Poliquin has higher name recognition than Golden but lower favorable ratings. “The more people there are who know about Jared, the better he’ll do,” Emily told us.
The Cook Political Report in July moved the 2nd District race from “lean Republican” to “toss up.” The district has not voted out an incumbent in 102 years, and Poliquin twice defeated State Sen. Emily Cain, who was cast as an Ivy League elitist who grew up outside the state.
Cook describes Golden, 35, as a much tougher challenge for Poliquin, who is 64, was born in Maine, made millions on Wall Street, and served as the Maine State Treasurer.
Unlike Cain, Golden grew up squarely in the 2nd CD in the dairy farm town of Leeds. He enlisted in the Marines after 9/11, served several tours blowing down doors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even worked several years on GOP Sen. Susan Collins’s homeland security committee and personal office staff.
At the briefing, Emily asked each of us to introduce ourselves and say what we like about Jared.
When it was James’s turn, he said he lives in Massachusetts and spends the summer in Old Orchard Beach. He said he likes how Jared fights for his values and the interests of ordinary Mainers.
I admitted that I, too, live in Massachusetts but that James and I share a family connection with Lewiston. My great-grandfather — which makes him James’s great-great-great-grandfather — was William B. Skelton, a prominent businessman and lawyer who served as the Mayor of Lewiston in 1903 and 1904. On our way to the campaign office, we had taken a selfie in front of Grampa Skelton’s home, where I remember big family gatherings at Thanksgiving. When Grampa hugged you, his whiskers tickled your face and you could smell the smoke of his preferred pipe tobacco, Middleton Cherry.
“Is that the Skelton in the law firm Skelton Taintor and Abbott?” a first-time canvasser in our group asked me. “Yes, he founded that,” I replied, trying to keep my family pride within bounds.
After introductions and her explanation of how to fill in the call sheets, Emily gave us each a red, white, and blue button reading “Jared Golden for Congress.” Above his name are five gold stars, a probable reference to his combat tours in the U.S. Marine Corps.
As James pinned his button to his white t-shirt he smiled at me and whispered, “We’re golden!”
Back in my car, we applied sunscreen that James had in his knapsack. I set the nav system to our first address, which was a 10-minute drive to Lewiston’s twin city, Auburn.
At the first door, no one was home. We left a flyer hanging from the doorknob by a rubber band. James filled out information on our call sheets — Not home, moved, refused, supporting Golden, undecided, supporting Poliquin.
James and I stood together at the doorstep. For the first few encounters with voters, I took the lead. I confirmed we were talking to the right voter, then said, “I’m Len and this is my grandson James. We are volunteering for Jared Golden. Are you following the race?”
In the car we joked that people would think we were missionaries. “You could talk to them about Buddhism,” I said. “Buddhism isn’t about converting people,” he correctly replied.
At about the fifth voter, I turned to James for the pitch, asking him to explain why he was working for Golden.
He spoke right up, standing straight, looking the voter in the eye. He said he liked how Jared fights for his values and ordinary Mainers, and that he is a Marine veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One woman met us at the door with a barking German Shepherd and frowned when she learned we were supporting a Democrat. But even she softened in James’s presence. She thanked us for stopping by and said, no, she did not want us to leave a flyer.
At another door a middle-aged man listened to James and then said, “Actually I’m a Republican, but I’m open to learning about your candidate.”
I suggested that James give him a flyer, but he only had one left. He didn’t know I had more in the front seat of the car.
“You can read this one while we wait and then give it back to us,” James told the man.
The guy smiled at this request and said,“That’s okay, you can keep it. I’m sure I will be able to find lots of information about him online.”
I left thinking that on November 6 that guy will probably remember the tall, earnest boy in shorts and white t-shirt who spoke right up for Jared Golden — and who was keeping close track of his flyers.
Most of the voters on our lists were unaffiliated or Republican. One Democrat who’d been running a chain saw in his yard greeted us warmly. “It’s time for a change,” he told us. Gesturing toward James he added, “We need to turn this thing over to the younger people.”
The woman with the German Shepherd was as close as we got to a hostile reaction. But our second-to-last door had a picture of a gun aimed at us with the message, “There’s nothing in this house worth getting shot for.”
“Maybe you can do that one yourself, Grampa,” James said. As he headed to the car, I gave him my cellphone. “If I’m not back in 5 minutes, call 911,” I told him. We were being light-hearted, but I did take the precaution of telling him the code to unlock my iPhone X if he needed to.
I knocked on the door. No one answered. With relief I marked the sheet “not home” and walked away.
“Why would someone put a sign like that on their door?” James asked when I returned to the car.
“Probably they’re just worried about people breaking in,” I said. We agreed it was creepy and headed back to HQ to give Emily our call sheets.
James tallied the sheets and found that we had knocked on 33 doors, every one on our two clipboards. We spoke with maybe 10 real voters.
On the drive back to Old Orchard Beach, James and I reviewed the highlights of our afternoon canvass.
“Thank you, Grampa,” he said from the back seat. “I would have never been able to do this without you. It was great.”
No one mentioned the president in any of our encounters. I wanted to knock on doors in a race that matters not because of my feelings on that topic, but because I needed a break from 24/7 accusations and outrage.
It renewed my hope to engage with our political system voter to voter. To do it with my grandson James in the hometown of our venerated ancestor made it even better.
Life goes on. America lasts. We’ll get through this.
NOTE: If you would like to support Jared Golden for Congress, please click here.