Amid frustration over election, suburban campaign volunteers fight on

It takes a certain type of person to spend weekends pounding the pavement, chatting up total strangers and enduring frequent door slams or hang-ups.

It takes millennials, retirees, Republicans and Democrats, fueled by coffee, doughnuts and pizza. Amid a national malaise with the presidential election, true believers in grass-roots democracy share a faith regardless of political persuasions that their efforts will make a difference.

"We can change things out here, said Alex Franklin, a 27-year-old Glen Ellyn Democratic organizer, "but it's up to us to do the work. It's up to us to put in the hours, it's up to us to change it."

"It's important to get involved," said James McCluskey, a 63-year-old Naperville Republican volunteer. "If you're not informed ... that's the way government blows past the voters and if that occurs you have an uninformed public."

Fifteen days remain until voters choose between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, capping a bitter and bizarre presidential race that local candidates are either running with or running from. Here's a look at one day - Oct. 15 - on the campaign trail in the suburbs.

10:30 a.m. - Lisle

DuPage County District 2 Board Member Liz Chaplin parks her car in the Meadows subdivision near Lisle. Pulling out a bag filled with fliers and a clipboard loaded with maps, she sallies forth.

Chaplin, a Democrat from Downers Grove, talks with voters about county issues from reducing flooding to ending pensions for board members - not national ones. But if folks ask about Clinton, she'll engage.

"I was a big Bernie (Sanders) supporter," Chaplin said, referring to Clinton's primary election rival. "Now I'm really proud to support her."

Residents saturated with robocalls are usually happy to meet a live person, Chaplin said, but she's noticed ennui for state and national races.

Meadows resident Eric Hutchings is one of those fed-up voters. "I can't stand Hillary and I can't stand Trump," he said. "I think I'm just going to vote for (Libertarian Gary) Johnson."

Trump's comments maligning Hispanics, Muslims and women have driven a wedge between him and mainstream Republicans deeper than Democrats' queasiness about the scandal involving Clinton using a private email server.

In some GOP campaigns, candidates take a "he-who-shall-not-be-named" approach to the oxygen-absorbing billionaire while others have denounced Trump.

"I'm not tied to what's happening at the top of the ticket," said Richard Blass of Elmhurst, a Republican running in District 2 against Chaplin. "I'm sticking to the issues that affect the county," such as heroin abuse and property taxes, he explained.

11:30 a.m. - Naperville

Tables are laden with coffee, doughnuts and campaign literature at the Lisle and Naperville townships' GOP base in a strip mall. DuPage County District 5 Republican candidate Janice Anderson is distributing bags full of fliers to volunteers before walking precincts in Aurora.

Anderson's favored strategy is to find someone doing yard work and "connect with that voter. Tell them who I am. Look at them in the eye and talk about my race."

Voters aren't happy, the Naperville Township trustee finds. "They're angry about the mess in Springfield and what's going on in the presidential race. I bring it back to what's important to them ... how to fix the roads and making sure we're running the health department correctly."

When conversation turns to the presidency, Anderson, who backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primary, says, "I'm for whoever can balance the budget."

Among the township foot soldiers is McCluskey. Monday to Friday, he's an attorney. On weekends, he's making closing arguments to voters.

"You just have to be able to speak to them and present yourself," McCluskey said. "You'd be surprised ... some people just take your materials, a lot of people get engaged."

In fact, McCluskey enjoys the campaign trail so much, "I wish I'd done this at a younger age," he said.

1:10 p.m. - Grayslake

Between slices of pizza, teenagers and college students phone-bank at 10th District U.S. Rep. Robert Dold's campaign headquarters in Grayslake.

Round Lake High School senior Adriana Rodriguez-Ruiz, who is fluent in Spanish, spends a lot of time explaining to Hispanic voters that Republican Dold said he could not support Trump in 2015.

"A lot of people have the assumption that just because they're from the same party Bob does not support immigrants ... those are stereotypes you have to fight," she said. "Elections across the country are being affected by the fact Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket."

One of the youngest staffing the phones is Grayslake High School freshman Aavik Patel, whose aspirations go beyond campaign worker.

"I want to be president of the United States one day," he said. "It's been a lifelong dream ever since I was a 5-year-old."

A stream of people drop by the office, including Randy Rossi and his wife Evelyn of Grayslake.

"I didn't vote for Trump and when Trump won I had to go through a deep sense of mourning," Randy Rossi said, smiling. "I've never seen two worse candidates in my life. I'm going to vote for Trump as bad as he is. Hillary Clinton has proved over the last 25 years that she will definitely be a bad president, killing businesses with her tax proposals."

Tenth District Democratic candidate Brad Schneider, a former congressman, has his own team of phone jockeys like Karl Blalock, who says his candidate's "got the right ideas about how to get the economy moving."

The retired manufacturing engineer was "apprehensive" about cold-calling but now he's a pro. "It's a lot of fun," Blalock, of Riverwoods, said.

3:15 p.m. - Lombard

Millennials who were all in for Bernie Sanders now share pizzas with Hillary for America volunteers around the table at the Democratic Party of DuPage headquarters in a Lombard strip mall.

"I've been a Hillary supporter since 2008," said Dawnn Basaraba, a realtor and Bloomingdale Township Democratic Organization chairwoman. "I know people say there's an enthusiasm gap but no one sees it here."

Sanders' defeat was "the first time in my lifetime where people have fought for something ... they didn't get what they wanted, but they stayed together and expanded on that idea," said Franklin, who now runs DuPage County auditor candidate Michelle Gale's campaign.

Likewise, DuPage District 5 Board Member Tony Michelassi burned for Bernie but is at peace with Clinton.

Voters are coy when it comes to the presidential race, Michelassi finds when he goes door-to-door. "They go, 'Don't even ask! I don't want to get into a fight.' I'll tell them I'm supporting Hillary because she meshes well with everything I'm doing at the county level. A lot of folks are receptive."

Late in the afternoon, the LeCroy family of St. Charles dropped by to pick up one lawn sign. After a conversation with Basaraba, they leave loaded down with at least five.

Holding his Clinton sign, Joe LeCroy explained that Clinton "stands for all the Democratic principals - women's rights, gay rights, environmental rights ... she doesn't want to give into the rich."

4:44 p.m. - Elmhurst

It's growing dark, and with a Cubs game starting soon, teenagers Salvador Zarco and Uriel Martinez encounter closed doors or "no" answers frequently to their polite, "Do you have a minute?" query.

The Addison Trail High School students are canvassing for the Democrats as part of an advanced placement government class.

Unfazed, Martinez said, "I think it's a great experience. There's a lot of 'not homes,' but it's fine. People have different views."

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  Joe and Sue LeCroy of St. Charles, along with daughter Becky, sort out their Democratic candidate lawn signs at the DuPage headquarters in Lombard as volunteer Dawnn Basaraba assists. Marni Pyke/
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