Democratic politicians and candidates came to Union County on Tuesday for a volunteer training session as part of their “Barnstorm” campaign across the state.
The Union County Democratic Party defines “barnstorm” as a verb meaning “to conduct a campaign in rural areas by making brief stops in many small towns.” Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, District 4 seat Hayden Shamel said that is exactly what Arkansas Democrats are trying to do, in the hopes of building a grassroots movement that will lead to a “blue wave” in November’s election.
Shamel, who is running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, said she has based her campaign around making personal connections and building relationships with voters “face-to-face.” At Tuesday’s Barnstorm, volunteers learned about phone-banking, canvassing and other grassroots methods of campaigning directly to voters.
Canvassing involves directly contacting voters, typically going door-to-door, to talk about a political campaign and solicit votes. Phone-banking is a modern day complement to that strategy, where campaign volunteers call voters to tell them about the campaign and ask for their votes.
In addition to Shamel, several other candidates for both local and statewide offices were present Tuesday. Veronica Smith Creer, the Democratic candidate who will face off with Republican Bill Luther for El Dorado mayor, and Anthony Bland, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, were both there, along with state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, and El Dorado Alderman Willie McGhee.
Elliott said she made the trip from Little Rock because she previously taught in El Dorado.
“And more importantly, I know there are a lot of Democrats here that know how important it is to do the work we need to,” she said, adding that she has been traveling with the candidates and plans to continue.
Bland said a major aspect of his campaign is “transparency and accountability,” and that’s what made him want to come talk to voters face-to-face. He said he will visit El Dorado as often as possible. Bland said his platform has four main focuses: making health care and prescription drugs affordable, ensuring every working person earns a livable wage, a jobs program and building technological infrastructure for schools and rural communities.
Bland will face incumbent Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, a Republican, and Libertarian candidate Frank Gilbert in November.
Matt Thomas, chair of the Union County Democratic Party, said getting out the vote can make all the difference in creating the “blue wave” Democrats are hoping for.
“We are a progressive state,” he said.
He added that the last four mayors of El Dorado have won by getting at least 2,800 votes and that he thinks the same could be true for Creer.
Creer said she came to help motivate people to go out and knock on doors. She said the NAACP Union County – El Dorado branch will be holding a voter registration drive from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Aug. 17 at Walmart.
National Democratic Training Committee Contract Trainer Sarah Scanlon was also present at the event Tuesday. The NDTC provides volunteer training to Democrats across the country.
“We’ve got a lot to do and a lot of great reasons to do it,” Scanlon said. “This is the election we cannot afford for [anyone] to sit out.”
During the Barnstorm, attendees learned about the different campaigning techniques and then did a practice phone-banking session. Participants took five minutes to call or text friends and family about the candidates they’d met. Scanlon said they were able to make 35 calls in those five minutes.
Shamel has been campaigning since early in the year. She visited El Dorado for the first time in January at a regular monthly meeting for the Union County Democrats.
Shamel’s platform has three main focuses. The first is affordable health care, specifically driving down the cost of prescription drugs. The second is a prioritization of education. Before running for office, Shamel was a high school and community college teacher; her husband is a high school football coach in Hot Springs.
“The fundamental premise is that every child in the state of Arkansas … every single child deserves access to the same resources and a superior education,” she said. “What we’re seeing from the current administration is the opposite” of prioritizing education.
She said she would like to see more emphasis on technology.
Shamel said that when a student leaves high school, they should be prepared for one of two paths: either to go to college and complete their course of study with a degree, or enter the workforce with a job that will enable them to raise a family if they choose.
Her third focus is the economy, which she said she thinks of more as “caring about people.” She said people should be earning livable wages, with which they can support families.
She also emphasized fighting for Social Security, saying she considers it a “fiscal contract with the federal government and they need to honor it.”
The Union County Democratic Party will have monthly meetings on the fourth Tuesday of every month at their new headquarters, located at the corner of Jefferson and Elm streets, at the former location of Elm Street Bakery.
Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or email@example.com.