Volunteers at the Clinton/Kaine phone bank in the Mission. Photo by Alan Toth

With presidential candidate Hillary Clinton almost certain of victory in California – out-polling Donald J. Trump by about 20 percentage points – Democrats in San Francisco’s Mission District may find themselves wondering how they can actually support their candidate. Debra Walker wants them to pick up the phone and call Nevada.

“Trump needs to win in Nevada, so if we can beat him there, it’s done.” said Walker.

Walker is an artist and a phone bank captain with the Hillary Clinton Campaign. From her studio on the corner of Mariposa and Alabama streets, Walker’s volunteers make weekly calls as part of Clinton’s get-out-the-vote effort. A life-size, cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton watches over the volunteers who are responsible for reaching the roughly half-million Democrats in Northern Nevada.

Nevada is up for grabs in this year’s election, but Walker says that Democrats in Northern Nevada are not a sure thing for Clinton.

“I am tentatively hopeful,” said Walker on a recent Thursday evening as some 20 volunteers worked the phones. “The only way we win is to keep going full-on until the end.”

At first glance, Clinton’s road to victory in Nevada might seem assured. According to campaign finance data from the Federal Elections Commission, as of September, Clinton has raised about $1.6 Million in Nevada, twice as much as Trump’s $834,000.

But, Clinton’s fundraising lead hasn’t helped in the polls. The candidates have been up and down in Nevada, with Trump leading Clinton by a few points in July, Clinton leading Trump in August, and swings back and forth in September polls.

There’s no clear advantage, so Walker needs to reach every Democrat in Nevada, and that means mending the fence with Bernie Sanders supporters.

“We need the Bernie supporters,” says Walker. “They’ve brought a lot of hope and excitement back into the party.”

One of those Bernie supporters is Ruth Lym. At 70 years old, Lym is one of the more seasoned volunteers, but age is of no consequence at the phone bank, where volunteers in their twenties and thirties work side by side with retirees.

Ruth Lym trains a new volunteer at the Clinton/Kaine phone bank in the Mission. Photo by Alan Toth

Lym started making calls for the Clinton campaign shortly after the primary. Clinton is a bit too centrist for Lym’s taste, but she was turned off by the “Bernie-or-Bust” contingent of the Sanders camp.

“Where are their brains?” said Lym. “Some of them are very young. They don’t remember Nader,” she said, referring to the Green Party candidate in the 2000 election, who cost Democrat Al Gore critical votes.

Lym’s anxiety about a progressive third-party candidate siphoning away Democratic votes led her to the phone bank. She finds it difficult to deal with some of the comments she hears from many voters in Nevada who may not be pro-Trump, but are definitely anti-Clinton.

One voter in Nevada told Lym that Clinton was a crook, and that the only women who go down in history are criminals. Because of Lym’s frustration with these calls, she prefers to train new callers, rather than make the calls herself.

Claire Kim knows this frustration well. Kim, 26, has previous campaign experience working for the Elizabeth Warren for Senate and Ann Kuster for Congress campaigns. When she worked phones on those campaigns, most people were hostile. This campaign is a bit different though. Most of the Democrats she speaks to Nevada are not hostile, they’re just opposed to both presidential candidates.

“If I get one good conversation – convince one person to go to the polls, then it’s a good night,” said Kim.

Claire Kim working at the Clinton/Kaine phone bank in the Mission. Photo by Alan Toth

Despite the challenges, most of the volunteers at the phone bank said that they felt obliged to do something more to help the Clinton campaign.

“I feel helpless in California, because I know my vote doesn’t really make that big a difference,”
said Krista Bangsund.

Bangsund, like many other volunteers at the phone bank, joined the effort based on a commitment to social justice. Many other volunteers referenced their worries about Supreme Court justices, or immigration issues. The unifying factor shared by all the volunteers is anxiety over the possibility of a Trump presidency.

This party unification based on anxiety is new for Walker – who previously volunteered with both the Clinton and Obama campaigns in 2008. She said that the major difference between that election and this one is that the 2008 campaign was all about hope. This election is all about overcoming apathy.

Many voters in Nevada are so frustrated with both parties, that they vowed never to vote again.

“I had two men cry when they were speaking with me,” said Walker, “because they were so passionate about government and how it’s gone wrong.”

An earlier version of this story misidentified the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee as John Kerry, not Al Gore. 

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