In presidential politics, how much money a candidate raises—and how many ads he or she airs—is often a barometer of a campaign's success. In local politics, there is a much simpler measurement—how many doors a candidate knocks on.
It’s a lesson that was quickly learned by St. Louis Park City Council candidates , , and .
“I think it makes a whole lot of difference,” Johnston-Madison said. “That one-on-one (time).”
With the election less than a week away, all four candidates have ratcheted up their ground games. Recently, St. Louis Park Patch tagged along with each of the candidates to get an inside look at what goes on at the doors.
‘Things Have To Keep Going At The House’
It's 11 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning, and Kaufman is moving frantically about his Zarthan Avenue home.
One of two candidates for the city’s At-Large A opening—Hallfin is the other—Kaufman is getting ready to go out door-knocking. But first he has to check on his three small children before leaving them with grandma and grandpa. There are also a few campaign volunteers inside, waiting for literature to hand out and marching orders from Kaufman.
This scene isn't unusual for any of the candidates, all of whom are juggling families and full-time jobs along with their campaigns.
Spano, competing with Johnston-Madison for the At-Large B seat, said he tries to go out knocking every night. Some nights simply don’t work.
“When the kids have home games, I go to them,” he said.
Hallfin said he’s able to get out a few nights each week, with family and work commitments tying up the rest of the time. Johnston-Madison no longer has any children living with her at home, which gives her a bit more time to campaign, but she said she still understands the constraints.
“There are certain things that have to keep going at the house,” she said.
Getting Over Nerves
Before his first door-knocking run prior to the , Spano said he had to sit in his car and gather his nerves before going to the door—this from someone who once worked on Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign.
“It’s different when your name is on the ballot,” he said.
While none of the candidates reported any real horror stories from front doors, all have had to gather the confidence to talk with strangers—a number of whom just wanted them to go away.
“It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it’s the best way to connect with people,” said Hallfin. “I just had to motivate myself to do it. I actually enjoy it once I get someone engaged and talking.”
Kaufman shared a similar sentiment.
“At first, I absolutely dreaded it,” he said, adding that experience has helped calm his nerves.
Johnston-Madison was the only candidate who didn’t acknowledge any nerves or uneasiness when it came to knocking on strangers’ doors.
“It’s natural for me,” she said.
Strategy, Strategy, Strategy
While door-knocking might look as simple as tapping a fist on a wooden door, the candidates for St. Louis Park City Council know there is more involved.
All but Johnston-Madison have utilized a DFL voter database to generate specific lists of St. Louis Park residents and their voting habits. Simply put, if someone is likely to vote, these three candidates knock. If someone isn’t likely to vote, they don’t.
“How many people that aren’t going to vote will I convince to vote?” Hallfin said.
Added Spano: “I want to make sure I do everything right to maximize my time.”
Johnston-Madison has used a publicly accessible database of precinct-level voting history from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office to target specific areas for her mailings. But when it comes to door-knocking, she has cast a wider net, going up and down every block in every neighborhood.
Though the candidates' door-knocking strategies differ somewhat, all four said they would continue their ground games right up to Tuesday's election—underscoring the significance of a few knocks.
"It's just like anything," Kaufman said. "It's harder to say 'no' to someone's face."