CINCINNATI -- Something changed in Yana Duke this year. She came to the U.S. as a youth from Ukraine, had never been involved in politics before. But during the 2020 campaign season, she felt she had to do something.
“What I'm afraid is coming to this country is what I'm running away from,” she said. “I'm really worried about socialism.”
She also admires the Republican president because “he gets things done.”
With perennial swing-state Ohio appearing to be a toss-up in recent polling, the roles of campaign volunteers and grassroots groups in generating enthusiasm and turning out the vote will likely be crucial in the battle for the state’s 18 electoral votes.
Katie Paris, of suburban Cleveland, has been involved with politically progressive organizations much of her adult life. But not like the one she founded a year ago, called Red, Wine & Blue. It's a female-oriented online community which she calls “pro-Mom, pro-democracy,” and this year, pro-Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate.
During the pandemic, Paris said her social media group has seen an explosion in engagement.
“Many of them balance full-time work, raising kids and now, a little home school on the side," the 41-year-old Paris said. “Yet people want to do something; they want to make a difference.”
In Cleveland, the co-founder of a nonpartisan group that promotes and facilitates voting in urban communities said the traditional ways of outreach such as setting up booths at summer festivals or doing door-to-door have been replaced by interactive infographics and a livestream town hall with rapper David Banner.
“I would say ... it (the pandemic) really has pushed us to be more creative,” said Erika Anthony, of Cleveland Votes. “There's a bit of a learning curve here.”
For Richard Asimus, 76, who helped start a small but vigorous organization called Bold New Democracy that had met weekly and staged candidate nights in the Cincinnati area before the pandemic, his phone now is his key campaign tool. He spends hours every day texting, calling, sending emails.
“I'm an organizer,” Asimus said. A Democratic congressional campaign wanted some friendly faces at a press conference on short notice, so Asimus turned out a half dozen or so after a round of calls. In another short amount of time, he also helped raise $2,000 to buy social media ads for local candidates.
Asimus got involved a couple years ago because he was unhappy about the Republican-dominated gerrymandering of congressional seats in Ohio — a federal panel of judges declared Ohio's U.S. House districts were unfairly drawn, but the Supreme Court ruled that redistricting was up to state legislatures.
Diane Cunningham Redden, 66, helped start SHELeads four years ago in the Cincinnati area. Its primary mission is to identify, mentor and provide support for female candidates.
“We're not like a ladies' club that's getting together for lunch,” said Redden, who also is active with the Hamilton County Republican Party. There were no Labor Day parades or picnics for candidates to drop in on this year, so pro-Trump activists have put on vehicle parades and gathered to wave placards at passing motorists at busy intersections.
Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said recently that voting statewide is on a record pace.
And the grassroots activists have no plans to slow down.
“I'm old and you've got keep some balance,” Asimus said, before adding that he expects to be active 8 to 9 hours a day, seven days a week, through Nov. 3.
Duke will be volunteering Election Day. And she'll be busy on social media. She saw the power of it a few weeks when she made a post complaining that someone had stolen her Trump yard sign. Soon, more Trump signs were sprouting in her neighborhood.
Paris said Red, Wine & Blue, which often uses humorous content that satirizes suburban mom stereotypes, has created an online community “with a lot of momentum, there's real power," as women reach out to their friends and neighbors with videos and other messages about voting.
In Cleveland, Anthony said volunteers are setting up ride shares and providing other transportation to the polls for those who want to vote in person, and making sure that people have personal protective equipment for going out amid the pandemic.
Redden said there are a number of grassroots activities planned to build excitement. But she said energy is already high among Trump fans.
“I don't know how much more exciting it could be,” Redden said, chuckling.
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