Hillary Ballantine leaves little to mystery when knocking on doors for Elizabeth Warren.
Ballantine, 28, of Keene, is usually swagged out in attire from the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign — from a navy blue Warren hat to a “the best president money CAN’T buy” T-shirt — in addition to toting a clipboard and brochures.
Like any door-to-door canvassing, the environmental scientist and Antioch University New England alumna’s volunteering often draws no answer. But on Saturday morning — still four months out from the New Hampshire primary — some residents she met had already been reached by the campaign before.
After a friendly chat, some agreed to either canvass themselves or chip in with phone banking, bringing food to the field office on Central Square or stuffing envelopes — whatever is needed.
Presidential campaigns going door to door in early primary states is nothing new. But Warren’s early start in May, coupled with the Bay State senator’s steady rise in the polls, has led to a buzz about what she has been able to get right in New Hampshire amid a crowded field.
Something about the Oklahoma native brought close to a dozen students, locals and out-of-staters to volunteer Saturday morning in Keene. And despite the long and tiresome legwork, devotees like Ballantine keep coming back.
Warren, 70, who has been atop the statewide polls since mid-September, has 55 staffers on the ground in the Granite State, according to her campaign.
While her competitors are in various stages of scaling up their organizing operations in New Hampshire — with Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg’s teams all having Keene field offices — the Warren team started early. Monadnock Region political observers have noted that only Cory Booker’s campaign has been close to the same scale as of yet.
“[Warren] has a really good team on the ground, and Cory Booker does, too. I mean, I think those two — it seems to me, from my experience ... they have the best organized teams,” longtime Democratic organizer and fundraiser JoAnn Fenton of Keene said at the party’s state convention at Manchester’s SNHU Arena in September. “What I love about them: They’ve been doing local projects since they got here in May.”
Fenton, who has not endorsed a candidate yet, has had her analysis echoed by those who have, like state Rep. Craig Thompson, D-Harrisville.
“This is the single best-organized campaign on the ground in New Hampshire,” Thompson, a Warren supporter whose district covers Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Harrisville, Jaffrey, Rindge and Roxbury, said in July at Warren’s field office above the Bank of America on Central Square.
In the Monadnock Region, Warren canvassers have set up routes in Keene, Marlborough, Walpole, Harrisville and Roxbury so far.
Some of what’s behind the Warren team’s organization is kept under wraps.
While Ballantine was able to speak freely going door to door, the campaign asked that the meetup she had with other canvassers beforehand be kept off the record, since it included a training session for newer volunteers.
Part of the secret sauce for the Warren campaign is its voter identification and logging system, of which volunteers see only the tip of the iceberg through a mobile app called MiniVAN, a paperless guide to canvassing.
A call to action
Ballantine, by now a seasoned pro, started her Saturday morning at the Keene State College meetup just before 10 a.m. By 11, she had parked her car at Jake’s 5 Star Convenience on Roxbury Street and walked several blocks to hit her batch of houses for the day.
“I grew up in a family full of Republicans,” Ballantine said while scanning front porches and mailboxes for address numbers. “A lot of them more on the conservative side. So I grew up really not voicing my political opinions a lot.”
Raised in Glenford, Ohio, Ballantine has lived in Keene since 2014 after moving to the city for her master’s in environmental science from Antioch.
Like many Democrats getting involved in campaigns for the first time, she said Donald Trump’s 2016 victory led her to re-evaluate how much she could afford to stand on the sidelines in an effort to avoid “antagonizing” conservatives in her family.
“And after that, I was just like — it is dire,” she said. “And we needed to get out there and do stuff and volunteer. And I fell in love with Elizabeth Warren’s policies, and here I am. I’ve been volunteering for Warren since April, May? Something like that.”
After no answer from the first house, the next homeowner Ballantine was looking for drove into the driveway as she was standing at the door. Ballantine adjusted her Warren cap and apologized as the woman struggled to hold onto her Chihuahua while getting out of the car with groceries.
“I don’t want to meet with anybody,” the woman said when Ballantine asked her to come to a campaign event.
As several others would indicate later, the homeowner said she backed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary.
The third and fourth houses were a wash, while Ballantine’s fifth posed a logistical issue of where to knock and wait, given its Russian-nesting-doll setup of a doorway within a porch within a front deck. After no one answered, Ballantine left a Warren pamphlet in the door.
The 12th door Ballantine knocked on, on North Lincoln Street, led to a lengthy exchange with a voter who said she’d stop by the field office this week to lend a hand.
The Central Square operation can get busy with a variety of functions, such as a pumpkin-carving outreach event on Wednesday evening.
On Terrace Street, an independent voter said he was somewhat interested in California billionaire Tom Steyer’s candidacy after seeing his mailers and ads, but admitted he has been trying to avoid paying too much attention at this early stage. Despite being “all in for Bernie” the last time around, he said he doesn’t know who his favorite is yet.
One of Ballantine’s tasks after these interactions is to gauge a voter’s potential support on a spectrum, the metrics of which are part of the off-the-record training session. As for what makes for a successful exchange, Ballantine said it comes down to sharing her personal story and reasons for supporting Warren rather than making a sales pitch for the campaign.
“They’re more open to talking because I’m not trying to sell Elizabeth to them,” she said.
Sometimes, someone might be so supportive of the candidate that Ballantine simply gives them a thank you and moves on, such as at the 14th house she stopped by.
“We’re gonna vote for her,” a woman in fitness wear said. “I get the emails, so we’re probably good.”
Ballantine also hears what voters consider their top issues. Some of the most frequently mentioned ones were climate change, health care and income inequality, as well as childcare and paid family leave.
As the ticker of homes on the MiniVAN app began to dwindle, Ballantine reflected on what keeps her volunteering, taking off only a weekend a month at most.
“It’s so much fun getting to talk to people who are just really interested in what’s going on in the world, and they have really strong opinions about it,” she said. “It’s just fun having those conversations.”