For most of her life Sheila Kitzman, a long-time teacher and Mendota Heights resident, considered herself politically independent, and she was proud of the fact that she’d voted for candidates from both major parties.
But in 2008, with wars she opposed raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kitzman decided she’d had it with the Republicans for awhile.
And after reading both of then Sen. Barack Obama’s books, she decided to commit herself to his campaign.
“I decided that in my 60-some years I had not seen the likes of this candidate,” she said. “He had everything I was looking for in a candidate: He was intelligent, he was traveled, he was committed, he was a man of character—and he still is.”
A team leader
This election season, Kitzman is serving as the Obama campaign “Neighborhood team leader” in Mendota Heights. She said that since February, she’s spent upward of 20 hours a week organizing volunteer efforts (phone banks, door knocking, canvassing, fundraisers) and coordinating with her four or five “core team members.” For the Democratic National Convention the first week of September, Kitzman hosted a three-television viewing party in her home that drew about 30 people.
In 2008, Obama beat McCain by 5.5 percentage points in Dakota County, winning the majority of votes in all Mendota Heights precincts.
A tight-knit group
The community of Mendota Heights residents actively working for Obama’s reelection community is a small but “tight-knit” group, said Darcy McKenzie, a Mendota Heights stay-at-home mom.
McKenzie attended a “boot camp” put on by the Obama campaign in early winter and since then has rallied friends, neighbors and acquaintances to support Obama with online tools she learned to use such as Twitter and Facebook.
“I haven’t done the traditional stuff for Obama this time,” McKenzie said. “I have four kids, I can’t be going to house parties, or walking the neighborhoods or knocking on doors. Plus in Mendota Heights—that’s a relatively small town—so you know whose door needs to be knocked on and whose doesn’t. It doesn’t take a whole campaign season.”
'Your personal story'
McKenzie found time to attend Kitzman’s house party and said that she’s enjoyed talking to Obama supporters about the individual issues that they are attracted to in Obama’s platform.
Kitzman agreed with that sentiment and highlighted the importance of narrative.
“This campaign is all about building community with your neighbors and you get to tell your personal story and it’s not based on facts and figures,” she said.
Kitzman said she lost a job as an executive administrative assistant at 3M three or four years ago and, if it weren’t for Obama’s mortgage modification program, she said Bank of America would have evicted her.
Now semi-retired with an ACT/SAT tutoring business, Kitzman said she’s working to reelect “the man who kept me in my house.”
‘The enthusiasm isn’t the same’
Both Kitzman and McKenzie said that the excitement—the “euphoria,” to use Kitzman’s term—has waned somewhat since 2008.
“There’s a lot of Obama supporters but I don’t know how active they are,” McKenzie said. “The enthusiasm isn’t the same as it was in ‘08—I mean I don’t even have an Obama sign out yet.”
But Kitzman said she thought that Obama was still the best candidate for the job.
“They look at him, and they may feel he hasn’t fulfilled the promise he made and his vision but he needs more time,” she said. “He can’t do everything that was put in his lap right away; he didn’t inherit an economic surplus like Bush did, he inherited a mess.”
Kitzman continues to host door knocking excursions from her home. The next one is 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and she said those interested in participating can do so by registering at Obama’s website.
“The election’s going to be very close,” she said. “The last campaign was one of the most successful American political campaigns in the history of the country.”
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