South Charlotte

Volunteers make the campaigns hum

Just two more days.

Then these four grassroots political volunteers from southern Mecklenburg, Union and York counties find out if all their door-to-door trekking, cold-calling and hand-shaking pay off.

Cable television and Internet social network sites offer mass information about candidates, but these Republican and Democratic volunteers say that's no substitute for reaching voters one-on-one. They've been at it for weeks and months. Their work won't end until the races are called Tuesday night.

Here's a look:

Believing that moms could fix Washington

After watching Republican presidential candidate John McCain introduce his running mate, Wendy Ritger drove to the Mecklenburg County GOP headquarters, walked in, and asked how she could help.

There was something about seeing Sarah Palin and her children that sparked a feeling of familiarity and kinship for Ritger, who lives near Providence High School.

“I've always said a mom could go fix Washington,” says Ritger, 43, an at-home mother of three, and a nurse. “We have to balance our budget, we have to think on our feet the whole time.”

And in managing a busy household, “at different times, I need to reach across the aisle and bring (people) together, if you will.”

Since August, this formerly shy cold-caller – “I don't consider myself sales-y” – has contacted countless voters by working the phones at headquarters.

She can knock out 40 calls in 45 minutes. She's enjoyed the conversations – with war veterans who respect McCain for being one, too, and with the elderly voter who learned through Ritger about curbside voting, where a volunteer brings a ballot to your car.

There was even the Republican woman who said she can't vote for a mother. “She thinks (Palin) should be home with her children,” Ritger says. “I didn't agree with her views, but I found it interesting.”

Last month she brought her two teenagers with her to help out at the McCain rally in Concord.

“I was really excited and proud to show my older two children, who can really grasp how it works at the grassroots level,” says Ritger.

On Tuesday she's volunteering at the poll at Providence High School until the last voter leaves. On election night, she and her family will watch from home. And wait.

“And I'll be hopeful,” Ritger says. “If it doesn't go the way I hope it goes, I'll know I did everything I could, and I still will feel it was time well spent because every time you speak you might plant a seed.” Celeste Smith

A mile-high rally and still not down

Hattie Ross was lifted at Denver's Mile-High Stadium last August by Democratic candidate Barack Obama's speech and hasn't come down yet.

“It was a moving experience to see all those people come together – black and white from all over the country – I witnessed a unity and energy that Obama has brought together,” she says.

Ross didn't get to be a delegate to the Democratic Convention, but she didn't let that stop her. The 59-year-old with 18 grandchildren went to Colorado on her own dime. She then came back to Rock Hill and helped open the York County Democratic Party headquarters on East Main Street and began volunteering as a fulltime office manager.

Between now and election day, Ross plans to staff the office and help coordinate door-to-door canvassing to make sure people have a ride to the polls. She'll also supervise phone bank callers.

Today from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. she'll attend her church, Boyd Hill Baptist, where she organized voter registration drives this fall. She'll then open party headquarters around 2:30 and help with a 3:30 afternoon march to Rock Hill City Hall, complete with hotdogs and soft drinks.

Monday and Tuesday, she'll open the office and help arrange rides for voters, continue neighborhood canvassing and phone banks.

On Tuesday night, she'll be at the VFW at 732 W. Main St. in Rock Hill where Democratic supporters will watch election returns.

“I honestly feel in my heart that history will be made on election day. I feel like it's destiny,” says the retired textile worker, who lives in the Sunset Park neighborhood in Rock Hill's west side. “And I don't worry about all the hours I've put in here the last couple of months. I couldn't imagine not being part of this…” Dan Huntley

Signs and questions since 2004

The action slowed a little last week at the Union County Republican Party headquarters on Myers Street in Monroe.

That's normal, according to volunteer Frank Feldmann. As in years past, he's handed out signs and answered voters' questions. He's been at headquarters every day from noon to 4 p.m.

“We're winding down,” he says. “We've gotten people out for early voting, we had a phone bank in here.” He points to two cell phones plugged to the wall.

Now, all he has to do is sort his few remaining signs and make sure they get to polling sites. Tuesday, he'll spend some time at the polls, then put in another volunteer stint at campaign headquarters.

This isn't Feldman's first year on the job. The 74-year-old retired military man has been involved with Union's GOP since 2004. He moved to Monroe after living four years in Murphy, and 50 years before that in New Jersey.

“The Republican Party asked for some volunteers to work in the headquarters in Monroe … and I've been doing it ever since,” he says.

Feldmann says this year there's a little more excitement, revolving around vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

“A lot of people have come into the headquarters because of her,” he says.

Now, virtually all that's left is Tuesday: “Going into election day is always exciting, and hopefully fruitful.” Cliff Harrington

A hot summer knocking on doors

Last summer, before Scott Chambers' senior year at Providence High School, you could find him in the nation's capital at George Washington University, taking a class called “Building a Campaign.”

When that wrapped up, the debate team member came back to Charlotte and volunteered with Democrat Larry Kissell's campaign for U.S. Congress.

“I wanted to see what I could do. It was interesting getting in on the ground floor,” he says. “I also got to take on some leadership roles,” which Chambers thinks wouldn't have happened in the much larger Obama campaign.

The teen spent hot summer months knocking on doors all over the N.C. 8th Congressional District, which ranges from Charlotte to Fayetteville. He “cut turf” by mapping routes for other canvassers, staffed phone banks and helped organize campaign events.

Since school started, he's cut the campaigning back to weekends, mostly.

Thursday morning found Chambers running the Kids Voting USA table at Providence High, where he is the national nonprofit program's precinct captain. The effort encourages youths too young to vote to learn the process and get in the habit.

A classmate, filling out bubbles on his mock ballot, asks, “Scott, how did I know I'd find you here?”

“Because this is what I do,” replies Chambers, handing the boy an “I Voted” sticker.

Chambers, 18, cast his ballot in early voting. In the next two days, he'll spend his lunches and afternoons at the Kids Voting table. And he'll wait for last-minute calls for the Kissell campaign. On election night, he'll swing by Charlotte's Grady Cole Center, where candidates, campaign workers and politicos gather as votes are counted. He'll be right there with them. Esther Robards-Forbes

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