How outside groups help in 6th Congressional District 'where votes count'

In the battle to support candidates in Illinois' 6th U.S. House District, a lot of the work occurs "in the field."

The Daily Herald asked several groups that are supporting Republican incumbent Peter Roskam or Democratic challenger Sean Casten for an inside look into their operations. None of the conservative groups offered an opportunity, but the Progressive Turnout Project invited us along for a day on the trail. Here's a look at what it's like meeting voters door to door.

Launch time

The day begins at 12:30 p.m. for the mostly 20-something employees of the Progressive Turnout Project, a Chicago-based group that works to reach "inconsistent Democrats" who don't always cast a ballot but do vote reliably blue.

There's a meeting the workers and their bosses call a "team launch" and an exercise not unlike a politics-themed round of an improv comedy game, readying the workers to counter excuses they might find at voters' doorsteps.

And then they're off, armed with iPads loaded with their "turf" - a list of voter names and addresses, studiously divided by 6th District Director Jaclyn Murphy for logistical efficiency.

Beginning from a north Naperville office, the team of eight is out the door at 1:20 p.m.

One of them, 26-year-old Ben Barker of Chicago, makes it to his turf of 127 houses in Naperville 10 minutes later. He'll hit 25 of them in the first hour, talking with seven people total, but only one who's on his list.

'Want the best'

The person Barker encounters who's a Turnout Project target is newly registered voter Zeferino Garcia. Garcia tells Barker that he's a new citizen looking forward to voting for the first time. He answers the Turnout Project's scripted questions (Barker has them memorized) about how many of his friends vote and what issues matter to him, and he signs a "commit to vote" letter the organization will mail back to him as a reminder.

At Garcia's blue two-story home, a Casten flier lies on the ground near the door. Garcia says he cares about health care and the environment.

"I want the best for the community," he said.

Leaving Garcia's door after a three-minute chat, Barker inputs the future voter's answers into the database on his iPad, relying on memory. Then it's on to the next door, and then the next.

'Where votes count'

Barker has learned to listen for footsteps, to wait longer for people listed as elderly.

But all his on-the-ground skill can't make more people be at home in the middle of an Indian summer afternoon. So much of his work is walking and leaving "sorry we missed you" sticky notes encouraging inconsistent Democrats to vote in this tightly matched election.

"I've come all the way out here because I know this is where it's competitive," says Barker, a Boston transplant. "This is where votes count."

Trained in political science, Barker knows the closeness of the 6th District race, which could help shift the balance of power in the House of Representatives. But people at the doors aren't so aware, his boss Murphy says.

"A lot of people," she said, "have no idea that this district is so competitive this time."

  "Voting Matters" is the message of the Progressive Turnout Project. The group is trying to get infrequent but Democratic-leaning voters to cast ballots for Sean Casten. Bev Horne/
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