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Young Campaign Volunteers On The 2020 Presidential Election's Importance


Two days before one of the most contested elections in American history, and more than 90 million Americans have already cast their votes. That's almost two-thirds of the 2016 total. And for campaign volunteers, these next two days could be their most hectic yet. There may not be as many candidate tables outside your neighborhood grocery store or canvassing events on college campuses and in church parking lots because of the pandemic. But young organizers are stepping up and making a hard push to get anyone who hasn't already voted to the polls.

HAYDEN PADGETT: The last few days before the election are looking busy - very busy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Hayden Padgett, chairman of the Texas Young Republicans. He's 28 years old and lives in Plano. And this weekend, he's organizing.

PADGETT: Calling people and knocking on their doors and making sure they show up on Tuesday to go vote. And then Tuesday itself, we're all going to be spending all of our time at the polls, trying to just mass them with as many volunteers as we can to talk to as many voters as possible across the county and across the state.

HELEN CLANAUGH: I got into organizing in my sophomore year of high school, and I'm a first year now in college.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this is Helen Clanaugh.

CLANAUGH: I started organizing around gun violence prevention because I felt called as a young person. I didn't want to be another statistic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She's 18, a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She's also executive vice president of Minnesota's Young Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

CLANAUGH: A big part of my work has been text banking - so reaching out to young people and making sure that they have all the resources that they need to vote - so making sure their registration is updated and making sure they know where their polling place is and just talking to them about issues that matter to them and what's at stake for them in this election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Between classes and work, she also squeezes in time to make phone calls to competitive local districts in hopes of flipping them blue. Most of her effort has been in the virtual space because of the pandemic. But she's encouraged by some of the responses she's been getting.

CLANAUGH: In 2018, when I did voter outreach, the amount of people that, like, posted their little, like, I voted selfies has skyrocketed in 2020. Like, some friends that I was, like, oh wow, like, I didn't realize you would ever vote - like, all of my friends are voting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hayden Padgett finds that nothing beats an eye-to-eye connection, even during a pandemic and even if those eyes are over a mask and at a safe social distance. He's trying to talk to as many potential voters as he can in person. He says that's the best way to get them engaged. And he was taken aback when he found out Democrats in his area had decided against knocking on doors.

PADGETT: We know from decades of data that knocking on someone's door and talking to them is the most effective way to convince them to vote for your person - or if they're already supporting them, to convince them to actually go vote. And so I'm very, very surprised by that. And I'm going to be curious to see what happens and whether that traditional wisdom holds true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what he's hearing when he's standing a safe 6 feet away...

PADGETT: Voters are definitely feeling engaged right now. That is for darn sure. I don't think there's a single person who does not have a strong opinion about one of the presidential candidates.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because one of the two men will be president for the next four years. But remember how old our two organizers are. Padgett is 28. Clanaugh is 18. They're thinking both about and beyond the next presidential term, about the direction they want to take the parties they're working for and the country they want to live in. Here's Helen Clanaugh, executive vice president of the Minnesota Young Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

CLANAUGH: In terms of Biden, I think that I will want to figure out ways to push him and, like, his administration farther left and making sure that he selects cabinet members that are more progressive. So - and I know that, like, Biden and, like, electoral politics - at least, like, to me, like, that's not going to fix everything. And, like, we need to, like, tear down these structures of, like, white supremacy and capitalism and, like, racism.

But, like, I think overall, like, it'll just be good to have someone in the White House that, like, knows what they're talking about and, like, believes climate change is real and, like, believes that, like, all people should have access to health care. Like, that just to me is, like, a breath of fresh air, even if I believe in much more different things than, like, Biden.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Texas Young Republican chairman Hayden Padgett.

PADGETT: There's a bunch of different factions in the party. And they've all rallied behind the president, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he would be their No. 1 choice if there was another primary, just like he wasn't the No. 1 choice for everybody in the last primary. And so what's going to be interesting to me is seeing how those different factions come together and choose who their new standard bearer will be and what kind of emphasis they will have, where they're going to focus their energy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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