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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Campaign volunteers have a thankless job

Sarah Scott was a pre-teen when the political bug bit her.

Now, as an old, grizzled campaign veteran, the Bedford resident with the soft voice and the strong convictions is right in the middle of the action.

She can’t vote, not at age 17, but she’s in the trenches, fighting to make sure Republican Ovide Lamontagne is your governor by late tonight.

“This was a great way to get some experience and find out what it’s about,” said Scott, standing outside the phone bank room at Lamontagne’s Manchester headquarters. “It’s different every day. I’m on the phone a lot.”

She also hands out stickers and holds signs. She’s a foot soldier in a sometimes dirty war, the offensive lineman trying to make sure the star running back gets the headlines, the yardage, the stardom.

It’s a fast-food world of messy hallways with campaign signs scattered on the floor, of pizza boxes and plates

stacked high with sandwiches, of cookies and chips and dip and coffee.

Lots of coffee.

It is, in a word, thankless.

And Scott loves it.

“It’s neat,” says Scott, a home-schooled student. “I like being the youngest because everyone wants to know why I’m here and what I think. They say they think that it’s great I’m here doing this kind of work.”

She says she discovered the importance of politics early, when kids are normally focused on Gaga, not government.

A Republican was born, at age 12.

“The idea of bigger government didn’t sound right to me,” Scott says. “Learning history and how our country was founded, it was founded on smaller government, so it made sense to me that you wouldn’t want it this way.”

In this office, students mingle with seniors. Across the main foyer, in the lunch area, John and Gail Root are in from San Antonio. They sit before a huge deli spread, ready to eat before taking their first crack at the phones.

John, 75, once lived in Belmont, and he never forgot the impression Lamontagne made on him when both worked for the state Board of Education.

He’s not thrilled about listening to Kid Rock later at the Verizon Wireless Arena, at an 11th-hour rally for Mitt Romney. But he’s happy to help his old friend replace John Lynch.

“With Kid Rock, you have to take what’s offered,” Root says. “There will be a lot of Ovide supporters there tonight, so that will be good. With Kid Rock, maybe I’ll forget to bring my hearing aid.”

As in Root’s case, friendship is often the spark someone needs to volunteer for a campaign. That’s how it is for Sandy Grossman-Morris, who also flew here – from California – to help someone win, in this case Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, who’s running for the seat in the 1st Congressional District.

Grossman-Morris, working in another section of Manchester, met Shea-Porter seven years ago, when both worked for the Red Cross and went to New Orleans to help victims of Katrina. They saw and smelled death, incinerated wet clothing and cleaned bathrooms.

“She made her decision to run for office while we were there,” Grossman-Morris said. “We were standing there, and she was calling back to New Hampshire and said she had to do something. I’m watching her make this call, and I had this feeling like I was part of history.”

So now she knocks on doors and makes phone calls, for her friend.

So does Rich Ruais of Salem, who works in the commercial fishing industry. He’s in yet another corner of Manchester, working the phones in yet another phone bank, for Frank Guinta, Shea-Porter’s opponent.

“If they want me working the phones, I work the phones,” Ruais says, taking a break from making calls. “If they want me at the polls, I’ll be at the polls. I have to feel strongly about someone to give up work time and my own personal time, and be cold.”

Closer to home, in Barack Obama’s Concord office, Jess Steever, who studied sociology at Plymouth State University, has gone from intern to leader. She’s in charge, organizing volunteers, canvassing neighborhoods, making calls and knocking on doors.

“People are friendlier face to face than they are on the phone,” Steever says. “I have gotten people to lean from undecided toward us. The most effective way is to tailor the conversation to their concerns.”

She is part of the young crowd mixing with the older crowd, combining on a single mission, to open eyes and stress appreciation for what is often taken for granted.

This concerns Scott.

“My friends are not involved at all,” Scott said. “I guess kids just don’t understand, and it’s really sad to see. A lot of my friends won’t be voting in this election, and they’re 18.

“Maybe that will change.”

Go Sarah, go.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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