ROCKINGHAM — With less than a week standing between U.S. voters and a new president, volunteers manning the local headquarters for the Democratic and Republican parties are making their last-minute pitches on behalf of their candidates and doing what they can to ensure everyone votes.
Tim Flagg, a Democratic volunteer, was confident about a win for Hillary Clinton.
“We’re fired up over here,” he said in the front room of the Democratic Party Headquarters on Rockingham Road. “We’re on fire! ‘Cause you know what? We’re gonna win. I don’t care what Fox News says. I don’t get my information from Fox News.”
Anna Thomas, who has volunteered for years, said she has not noticed any glaring differences in voters’ activity this year compared with other years.
“Basically it’s been kind of even from the time it was opened,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of folk walkin’ in needing information. And then the signs, of course — we could not keep Hillary signs. They come, and they are just gone like hotcakes. But we do have other things here, and we now are just basically doing information. Most folk that planned to vote have already done (information gathering), but there are still a few coming in.”
Flagg added that “a lot” of Clinton campaign signs have been stolen from people’s yards. Swann said it was happening so often across the county that she has advised people who’ve picked them up to bring them indoors overnight.
“The last batch we got, we got 150 signs of Clinton’s, but they left quickly,” said Mary Swann. “I man the headquarters. I’m here every day. I volunteer. I am here to help everybody. We have volunteers coming in to call other volunteers, and we did that right up into this week, and we’ll do this until we close. So we just had nice visitors come in today and we’ve been talking about the voting process. All of us are Democrats. And we love what we do here.”
Asked what, precisely, the headquarters volunteers “do,” Swann explained the process.
“When we first open for the year, we register people to vote,” she said. “We give them information on where to vote. We have a table set up with who is running for office, and we pass out buttons and signs and that kind of stuff. In the last week, we’ve found that most of the people coming in have already chosen who they will vote for. But they still come in seeking information to take back to their neighborhoods to give to people that don’t know anything about voting and the voting process.”
Swann remarked that early voting has seemed to attract a lot of voters this year.
“On Friday past, they gave me the head count for Friday,” she said. “We had 5,090 people who had voted.”
“I feel certain that everybody in this room has voted already,” added Flagg.
“Early voting will be over on November 5th,” Swann said. “And then we’ll be going to the different sites to vote.”
Flagg said his approach to educating potential voters often takes him outside the headquarters.
“I educate people on the check-out line at Walmart, in the grocery store,” he said. “When they sit there and say what they’ve come out with about Donald Trump — that Donald Trump is gonna do this and do that — Donald Trump is not for the working-class people. Period. Donald Trump has nothing in common with most of the people that live in Richmond County. And to think that he’s going to (help) is a pipe dream.”
Flagg, who grew up in the northeast, said he has been familiar with Trump’s tactics for a long time.
“Donald Trump has 18-carat gold toilet bowls,” Flagg said. “If you’ve ever been to New York…where he lives, it’s like the Taj Mahal. Now, I grew up in New York. I remember when Donald Trump was in Atlantic City.
“Here’s what happens (when) Donald Trump says he’s for the working-class people,” Flagg continued. When they were building Trump Tower and all of his casinos, I think there were three or four of them, he would hire all these folks. Come Thursday, when it got time to get paid — and I saw this with my own eyes, so this isn’t somebody talking on TV — they would line up on Thursday morning to get their checks and there was nobody there to pay them. And the next week, he’s brought in a whole ‘nother bunch of people.”
Flagg declined to directly identify the workers as illegal immigrants.
“I know they don’t look like me, alright?” he said. “So, he’s bringin’ ‘em in from third-world countries and South America and Central America and he puts them to work and when it’s time to get paid, there’s nobody home. Now, that’s a tragedy. Don’t tell me that Donald Trump is for the working class. He doesn’t have a clue. He is not for the working people. I don’t know who he’s for. Anybody that lives the kind of life he lives, and if you saw his house in Florida, your head would spin off.”
Thomas, Swann and others in the room nodded in agreement as Flagg recounted one of Trump’s many controversial statements made during the presidential debates.
“How do you get around standing on television, saying, ‘I haven’t paid taxes in 20 years, and I’m smart.’ These are his words,” Flagg said. “He said it with his own mouth. You can run the tapes all you want to, and you can run these sound bites all you want to, but it’s a fact. I watched every minute of every one of those debates, and I heard it, and saw it with my own eyes. He sat there and said, ‘I haven’t paid taxes in 20 years, and that’s smart.’”
Responding to the Trump campaign’s frequent mention of veteran endorsements of their candidate, Flagg shook his head.
“How is he for the veterans? Veterans need programs. Veterans need money,” he said. “He’s not paying his fair share. How could he be the leader of the free world, the President of the United States, and stand there and say, ‘I’m not payin’ taxes.’ Because if he can get away with it, why can’t we? I’ve got one, two, three, four, five, six people in the room right now that would love to be able to say, ‘I haven’t paid taxes in 20 years,’ but you know where we would be? We would be in the Crossbar Hotel. We would be in Club Fed. We wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it, and we certainly would have lost our right to vote. And if you don’t vote, God help us all.”
Thomas said she is proud of paying her taxes.
“How do you have programs without taxes? That’s where the programs come from and through — taxes,” Thomas said. “So I don’t have a problem with paying my taxes because I have used some of my own monies when I’m paying taxes for things that I use. The streets are paved. Water’s running. The lights are on. So, the tax money’s important. It works.”
Some voters believe Trump is a good candidate for the nation’s highest office because he is not a politician, but Richmond County Democrats said such thinking is flawed.
“He’s not qualified to lead if he doesn’t know the way and try to help others,” Swann said. “How is he going to lead us in the right direction if he doesn’t know it himself? If he ran the country (like a businessman), it would be a disaster.”
“He’s already said he likes war,” Flagg said.
“Who benefits when we have war?” Thomas asked. “Big business.”
“That’s right,” Flagg agreed. “The war machine keeps turnin’, and believe you me, that ain’t turnin’ for you and me. It’s going straight to Wall Street. Wall Street don’t give a damn about Main Street, and we’re on Main Street and you’re talking to Main Street folks here. We’re the salt of the earth. And let me tell you another thing, too — he turns around and he says all of these things about how he’s going to make things better. First of all, America was great for the past eight years. I hate to break the news to everybody, but this country is in way better shape than what it was when President Obama took over. That’s a stone-cold fact, and I don’t care how you slice it and dice it, we’re way better off in this country than we were eight years ago.”
The Richmond County Democratic Party Headquarters is located at 515 Rockingham Road, and its phone number is 910-817-7510.
Meanwhile, at the Richmond County Republican Party Headquarters on East Washington Street, Dan Moody handled operations there all by himself Thursday afternoon.
“I’m retired and I work here,” he said. “We keep it open from 11 to 6 and it’s been a landslide, the people coming in to get signs and ballots and things.”
Asked whether the Republicans have had problems with their signs, Moody nodded.
“We’ve had many people come in and tell us that their sign was there in the morning and gone the next morning when they went out, or it’s been sliced or ripped,” he said. “So, we’ve replaced many signs. We actually had to go get a few more signs. We now are approaching 1,300 signs that we’ve handed out through this door, and in this Democratic county, that’s a lot.”
Moody said, on average, about four to five people walk in each day with questions about early voting, voter registration and locations where ballots can be cast.
“This county has been Democratic for so long, it’s got a tradition,” he explained. “And it really has kind of been slow to grow. I’m not from here. I’m a transplant. I came from somewhere else, and I keep telling them, this is not how the rest of the world works — that new blood is the secret to success.”
One sign that people are open to change, Moody said, can be found in Congressional approval ratings.
“With Congress having a nine percent approval rating — or if you turn it around, a 91 percent disapproval — we think Donald has really tapped into that group,” he said. “Because people are really unhappy with how politicians have been running the world. And Donald’s not a politician, he’s a businessman. I’m looking at all the meetings and rallies he’s holding that have ten-thousand (people) in it and five-thousand overflowing outside, and I don’t see those kinds of numbers showing up on the Democratic or the other candidates and the other politicians. So I think Donald’s tapped into something — that a lot of people are unhappy, and he’s kinda got ‘em an avenue to express that.”
Asked whether the candidate’s own words can reasonably be used against him, Moody admitted Trump lacks a certain degree of professionalism, at least politically.
“He’s been criticized,” Moody said. “He’s not a ‘polished’ politician, true. He’s a businessman, and quite often he’s had a response to an attack. Or if he is told an untruth about him, he’s been quick to respond. And being a polished politician, he might do better or have a different approach. But because of his nature and his northeast, New England attitude, he’s a little aggressive and a little abrupt. And most people in the country are rather laid-back and not quite as impressed or not quite in the same kind of attitude, and I think that also rubs people the wrong way. But, he is successful.”
Trump’s highly publicized business and financial successes — and failures — are some of the reasons Moody said voters are backing him.
“Donald is successful, but he’s not successful at being a politician,” Moody said. “Therefore, I think a lot of people are excited by what he might bring to the political arena that are different than what politicians have brought — things that people disagree with. Maybe their choices, maybe their attitude. Maybe their lack of action in certain cases.”
In Moody’s estimation, Trump has qualities that “polished politicians” cannot afford.
“Donald seems to bring in a concept that he wants to do the right thing — not the politically-correct thing,” Moody said. “He’s not PC in any way, but he’ll bend to be correct, politically. And I think that’s one thing people like. He’s not changing his mind, but he’s more likely to do something right that is not politically correct than to fit in with the group. He’s more likely to change the situation, to right a wrong, to undo something that’s silly or undesirable. Donald’s coming from a different part of the world where that’s not part of his focus. He wants to do the right thing, not the thing that will get him re-elected. So I think people are looking at him as, ‘No, he’s not gonna change to fit in.’ But the people who are in Congress or in the political parties might have to decide how to fit in with Donald.”
Moody, responding to the necessity of any presidential candidate to have the backing of Congress in order to act, said he looks forward to seeing what Trump has in store.
“One of the amazing things that’s going to happen is — Donald has been an entrepreneur, an individual with his company,” Moody said. “As he’s elected, he’s going to have to be one person who’s in charge of a cabinet, in charge of other departments, and have to deal with a group of 500 people who run this country, called Congress. And there’s going to have to be some kind of marriage where they all get together. The question is, who’s bringing who to the altar? Is Congress being drug to the altar that Donald wants to do the right thing on? Or is Donald going to have to learn how to get things done by maybe meeting these people halfway? It’s going to be an interesting thing. People want him to be disruptive to Congress and drag ‘em all over to his side, but Congress runs the country and the president doesn’t run a lot of things, so there’s going to have to be a marriage of some kind.”
Moody said Trump’s reputation as an “anti-establishment” candidate seems to put him in a favorable position to win support at the polls on Tuesday.
“I think we’re all tired of the establishment,” he said. “I think Congress and all the politicians we have — you can easily have the story where somebody gets elected with all the best intentions. Then the first, second day in Congress they find out about re-election. And pretty soon, who is this person? This isn’t the one we wanted or who we elected. And I think that’s gonna be the case now. I think people are dissatisfied and they all want something to be changed so they can do it the right way — not the old, politically-correct way it’s been done.”
To contact the Richmond County Republican Party Headquarters, call 910-334-0794 or visit 304 E. Washington St., across from Food King.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.