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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Voter Turnout Pushed in California’s 49th District

Protesters who gathered weekly for over a year at GOP congressman Darrell Issa’s office to ask the now-retiring representative to resist President Donald Trump’s agenda have turned their efforts to a different goal: getting out the vote in the California primary June 5.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. (CN) – Protesters who gathered weekly for over a year at GOP congressman Darrell Issa’s office to ask the now-retiring representative to resist President Donald Trump’s agenda have turned their efforts to a different goal: getting out the vote in the California primary June 5.

Volunteers with Flip the 49th and local labor unions have been canvassing the neighborhoods of California’s 49th District for weeks, reaching out to low-turnout voters whose votes could put at least one Democrat on the November ballot.

California’s primary elections are nonpartisan, meaning the top two vote-getters face off in the November election regardless of party affiliation.

Volunteers canvassing in north San Diego and south Orange County are working to ensure two Republicans do not end up on the ticket to replace Darrell Issa in November.

But unlike other activists engaged in election activities across the country, those in the 49th are not endorsing any of the four Democratic candidates. Their singular focus is electing a Democrat to Congress and contributing to nationwide efforts to flip the U.S. House of Representatives blue.

So far, volunteers have done outreach to nearly 40,000 voters in the district, having conversations with over 10,000 of them, according to Flip the 49th campaign manager Johnny Papagiannis.

Papagiannis said Flip the 49th has collected data showing of their “supporters,” 70 percent are Democrats, which he noted “is an important number for turning a seat.”

“Most campaigns are candidate-specific or at least issue-specific, but we’re kind of blue-specific,” Papagiannis said.

“The vast majority of folks involved in our campaign hadn’t previously been involved in politics. It took 2016 for them to say, ‘I can’t sit at home anymore.’ People hate phone banking, hate knocking on the door, but they hate where the country is at more,” Papagiannis said of the volunteers.

Courthouse News tagged along Saturday as volunteers canvassed neighborhoods in Oceanside.

About 50 volunteers gathered for training on voter outreach before hitting the pavement to talk to voters. A couple veteran volunteers who have canvassed before role-played how to engage with voters. They advised volunteers to first ask if voters “support the Trump agenda” and to thank the voter and leave if the answer was yes. Arguing “for 20 minutes” with Trump supporters was not encouraged because organizers said it would be “a waste of time.”

Gus Hawthorn, an Oceanside resident who has canvassed neighborhoods for weeks, was paired with first-time canvasser Barbara Amador, one of the activists who organized the weekly protests at Issa’s district office in Vista.

The two hit a couple dozen homes. Some who answered the door said they would not be voting for a Republican in the upcoming election, others said they were undecided and a couple said they were Republicans and would vote along party lines. But none were rude or challenged the duo’s intention in getting voters to the polls in less than a month.

At one point, Hawthorn weighed whether to ring the doorbell at a house with a “no soliciting” sign on the door. “We’re not really selling anything,” Hawthorn said before ringing the doorbell.

“I look at bumper stickers; if I see a NRA [National Rifle Association] sticker I know this is going to be an interesting conversation. If I see a Bernie [Sanders] sticker, I know it will go well,” Hawthorn said on the clues he takes from people’s vehicles before approaching their homes to discuss voting.

Both Hawthorn and Amador had “Vote June 5” bumper stickers on their own cars.

The duo talked to a woman who was registered decline-to-state and said she and the other members of her household would not be voting for Republican candidates this year.

Another woman, who answered the door with young children, said she wasn’t aware there was an election coming up and that there aren’t any “issues” that are particularly important to her.

“She is one of those apathetic moms who is too busy or says ‘My husband deals with that,’” Amador said.

Another voter said she was “mostly Democratic” and “definitely anti-Donald Trump,” though she was registered as an independent and said her son interned for Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez who is running to replace Issa. She said she’d consider voting for Chavez before taking literature from Hawthorn discussing where the candidates on both sides stand on top issues such as health care and immigration.

In an interesting encounter, Amador ran into a friend who wasn’t on the voter outreach list and asked if he supports Trump.

“Do you really want to go there?” the man asked, adding he is a “drain the swamp kind of guy” and “definitely not a Democrat.” Amador left him literature anyway.

She later said she hadn’t voted in every election, but that’s changed with Trump in office.

“I was a bad midterm voter, but not anymore,” Amador said while wondering if canvassers were knocking on her own door at home to do outreach based on her previous voting record.

Amador said she has been volunteering and protesting because she wants “to feel like I did everything I could to flip the district.”

“I want to show my son what you do when you want to get something done.”

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