Going door-to-door with Tom Drew
Published 2:15 pm, Tuesday, October 26, 2010
State Rep. Tom Drew's incumbent status is apparent when he campaigns. The license plate of his white Ford Explorer has only one number: 132, which stands for the district that he represents. Appearing in the top and bottom margins of the plate are the words "Connecticut" and "Legislature," confirming that he holds elected office.
As soon as he hops out of the vehicle, though, he follows the same routine as he did in 2004, when he first ran as a Democrat for the Connecticut House of Representatives. Armed with a clipboard of voter registration rolls and an accordion folder of campaign flyers, he walks the streets of his district and knocks on doors.
"I think it's effective," he says of door-to-door campaigning. "It's the number one way to understand the public concerns, to really get the pulse."
Drew, 54, says he goes door-to-door daily, usually in the afternoon after his finishes his other work as a lawyer. On a temperate Wednesday afternoon, Drew outlines his trajectory for a few hours of campaigning in the winding and leafy streets of eastern Fairfield's Stratfield neighborhood. The area comprises part of the eastern end of the 132nd District, which stretches westward to Southport.
"We'll go to these houses on Woody Lane, then we'll go to these ones on Old Farm Lane and loop back to Blueberry Lane," Drew says as he runs his pens down the list on his clipboard.
As a three-term incumbent, Drew garners a high level of recognition when he knocks on doors. Although he always introduces himself as a state representative, residents often preempt him with a response of "Hi, Tom," when they answer their doors.
With a limited preamble required, residents frequently delve straight into policy discussions with Drew.
"So where do you stand on wind mills out in Long Island Sound?" Mike Friedrichs asks.
"We have to look and see where they work well," Drew replies. "The question is would they work better in Long Island Sound or on land?"
Often, though, residents' conversations with Drew are much more personal than political. Some share stories of their children who have learning or physical disabilities, of their own health problems, and even of family members who have committed suicide. These residents or Drew may allude to legislation related to these issues, but often these conversations make no reference to political ideology.
"I hope things will be good for my kids," Mindy Kloster tells Drew. "You really want kids to feel that there are things to look forward and that people in office are thinking about that."
Anti-incumbent sentiment, which has characterized many political races at the national level, plays a relatively peripheral role in Drew's exchanges with voters. While some residents complain about federal policy, he does not encounter any attacks on his own record in Hartford and mention of his opponent, Republican Brenda Kupchick, is also limited.
"I don't know if the national mood has really filtered down to the elections at the state level," Drew says.
Compared with candidates' bids for national office, Drew's campaigning style is low-key. He conducts his door-to-door efforts alone, he does not conduct polls, nor does he have a BlackBerry attached to his hand or ear. Instead, he receives only a handful of calls on his Samsung cell phone--they come from his legislative aide based at his office in Hartford, a friend who is a counselor at Central High School in Bridgeport, and his wife.
The most emotional moment of the afternoon's campaigning comes near the end of his Stratfield trip. As the sun lurches downward, Drew knocks on another door.
A man answers, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Like many other residents, he immediately recognizes Drew.
"I know you, Tom Drew," he says.
"Yeah, I remember you too, good to see you," Drew replies.
"I have to tell you, Tom, I'm very disappointed in the Democrats. You're the only Democrat that I'm going to vote for," the man says.
The man, who does not wish to be identified for this story, originally comes from Romania. Having lived under Communist Party rule there, he tells Drew that he fears that the U.S., particularly at the federal level, is going in a socialist direction.
"I know how this could end. We used to have these courses about communism in Romania," he says. "They told us [Russian Revolution leader Vladimir] Lenin said that communism wouldn't be exported to America; it would be home-grown."
After more discussion, he takes a flyer and shakes Drew's hand. "I appreciate you coming by, Tom. Just remember what I'm telling you."
Drew walks silently down the street towards the next house. After dropping off another flyer, he looks back toward the previous stop.
"That was a good conversation," he says. "That was important hearing what he had to say. And you're only going to hear something like that when you knock on someone's door."