By Steve Musal
DES MOINES, Iowa — As the clock ticked toward Monday night’s Iowa caucuses, campaign workers for Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders spent the weekend making a door-to-door push that could decide his fate.
A Des Moines Register poll showed Sanders in a statistical tie with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, whose three percentage point lead was within the margin of error. Team Sanders will be pushing hard on the ground, no matter what the polls say, said the campaign’s national press secretary.
“While we do pay attention to the polls, what’s important to us is that we’re not letting up,” said Symone Sanders, no relation to the candidate. “We’re paying very close attention to our ground game here in the office, and that’s why things like canvass launches are very important. These door-to-door knocks are the heart and soul of what’s going on with the campaign this weekend outside of the senator being in town.”
To that end, a small army of volunteers spent the weekend canvassing door-to-door in Des Moines. Among them was Holt McCallany, an actor who said he was one of the first in Hollywood to come out in support of the Vermont senator.
“Some of these people who might be undecided are going to make up their minds today because two guys knocked on their door and said a lot of nice things about Sen. Sanders,” McCallany said. “You’re always trying to bring people over to the cause. You can’t just rest on television commercials. It has to be about human interaction.”
It’s not the first campaign the actor has worked on.
“I was handing out flyers for George McGovern in 1972, and I remember the feeling of excitement and enthusiasm I had about the McGovern candidacy,” McCallany said. “Obviously that one didn’t work out, but we’re hoping for a better result this time.”
He’s an outlier in campaign experience: Most of his fellow canvassers are more like Neal Sales-Griffin, 28, the founder of a software school start-up from Chicago’s South Side. The Sanders campaign is his first.
“Even when (President Barack) Obama ran, I was just kind of passively involved as an armchair activist online,” Sales-Griffin said. “This is the first time I’ve actually put up my own time and my own money to drive out and help someone at the very beginning of the political process. I think the movement that Bernie stands for is something that has inspired a lot of young people — I guess I’m kind of young, still — to get involved.”
Sales-Griffin, who credits his volunteering to his friends on the Reddit board /r/sandersforpresident, said he found himself inspired by the Vermont senator’s consistent record on civil rights and economic equality.
“He’s been on the right side of history with all of these issues for so long,” Sales-Griffin said. “That consistency, that passion that he brings is just awe-inspiring to me. I want to be a part of that in whatever way I can.”
And helping the campaign however seems to be a constant theme for the volunteers — no task was too small, no one person too important.
“My feeling was, I’m going to show up and any way they want to put me to work, I’m happy to work,” McCallany said to people who questioned why a professional actor was knocking on doors in Iowa in the dead of winter. “So today I’m doing this, and tomorrow it will be something else.”
That something else will be somewhere else, as well, as Iowans head out tonight to caucus. On Tuesday, McCallany, Sales-Griffin and Symone Sanders will know for sure whether the door-to-door efforts paid off.
“All of this means nothing if people don’t show up on Monday,” the press secretary said, “So we are doing everything in our power to make sure everyone shows up.”