Ahead of Election, Jews Canvass Door to Door

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Update: A previous version of this article misstated Elana Baurer’s surname.

Over the course of her professional life, Francine Lipstein has been a headhunter and a licensed stockbroker, used to making cold calls. Lipstein has also been, in her words, a “liberal Democrat” in the past. But this upcoming election cycle, as she has for a few decades at this point, she’ll be canvassing on behalf of the Republican candidate. Her previous professions, she believes, have prepared her for the highs and lows of political canvassing.

“I’m not afraid of rejection,” she laughed.

Lipstein will join hundreds of thousands of Americans who go door to door, ringing their neighbors’ doorbells to make the case for Rep. Whoever and Sen. What’s-His-Name. And as Lipstein and other Jewish Philadelphians planning on canvassing expressed, they won’t just be bringing talking points; they’ll be bringing their experience of being Jewish in America with them.

“I think that my Jewishness, and being an ambassador for the Jewish people in every way, informs everything I do,” Lipstein said. “It plays into everything. It would be impossible for it not to.”

Lipstein will be supporting President Donald Trump during his reelection campaign, but truthfully, she says, her loyalties lie with the party and the platform more than any particular candidate. She wasn’t crazy about Sen. Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, for example, but worked on his behalf anyway.

Jill Ross Stein, a Democratic ward leader in Lower Merion Precinct 6-2, is excited to canvass on behalf Pete Buttigieg, or “Mayor Pete,” as she calls him. She likes that he is a veteran, she sees similarities to former President Barack Obama and she thinks he has the “it factor.”

Ross Stein worked on the Clinton/Gore campaign, and is very comfortable making the case for the candidate that she believes in. During the 2018 midterms, she canvassed on behalf of Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeliene Dean.

“I’m pretty comfortable with anyone,” she said.

Ross Stein, like the other canvassers we spoke to, can’t help but notice a Jewish name on her list of constituents, nor does a mezuzah escape her eye. For her, this is another opportunity to find common ground with her interlocutor. “If I go around canvassing in my neighborhood,” she said, “I’m going to pull out the things that are relevant to my neighbors.”

Of course, as she noted, Jews and non-Jews alike care about issues like abortion and health care. But if there’s an opportunity to talk up her candidate’s Israel policy in a positive way, it is typically coming in conversations with Jewish voters, she said.

a collage of Rudi Weinberg with different presidential candidates
Rudi Weinberg has made a point to get photos with many candidates. (Photo collage courtesy of Rudi Weinberg)

Rudi Weinberg approaches canvassing with a similar mindset. Weinberg is in his fourth year at Drexel University, and is president of Drexel Democrats. The New York native is studying electrical engineering and pursuing a minor in Judaic studies, but his busy schedule hasn’t stopped him from campaigning on behalf of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In 2016, besides canvassing for Sanders, he attended protests outside of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“I’ve gotten a lot of practice,” he said.

At this point in the cycle, Weinberg said, there isn’t a whole lot of knocking on doors to be done — that will come later. For now, he’s talking to fellow students, phone-banking and organizing debate watch parties and discussion groups through Drexel Democrats (though he stressed that the club itself does not make endorsements).

With Jewish voters, Weinberg said, he does like to speak with them about the values he believes his preferred candidates uphold. Tikkun olam, he believes, is foundational to the Sanders and Warren and campaigns. And in rare cases — depending on the observance of the voter he’s speaking to — you might hear him say that he believes they’re a step toward the coming of the moshiach.

He has, in recent months, begun to waver a bit on his support for Sanders. He took issue with Sanders’ appointment of Linda Sarsour as a campaign surrogate, and when he talks to Jewish voters, it’s one of their top concerns with Sanders’ campaign.

“It’s really been harder and harder to defend it,” he said.

Elana Baurer is a canvassing veteran, having knocked on doors for Democrats ranging from Kerry/Edward, when she was in high school to Kendra Brooks, a candidate for City Council, just recently. Even when she was at school at Wesleyan, you might have found her at your doorstep ready to talk about Sen. Chris Murphy.

Baurer, an attorney at a nonprofit, takes a bit of a different approach from Lipstein, Ross Stein and Weinberg. Though she, too, isn’t blind to a mezuzah on the door, the fact that the bulk of her canvassing has been on behalf of local candidates excludes, say, Israel from a conversation she might have.

“When I’m canvassing, I’m going to be talking about, like, Philadelphia public schools,” she said. “I’m not going to be talking about foreign policy one way or another.”

Perhaps earlier in her experience canvassing, she said, she may have relied more on a shared identity as a selling point. But after a while, that can change.

“Sometimes we like to be told that our identity puts us into boxes on issues,” she said, “but there are some things that we all care about.”

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