CHATHAM TOWNSHIP – “Are you a Republican?” the man on the other side of the door asked the young woman standing before him.
Ashley Felice answered affirmatively.
“You got my vote,” he said.
Success. This was a victory for the mayor’s reelection effort.
Going “door to door” seeking votes, or “canvassing,” is a longtime rite of politics. In this age of voter outreach through algorithms and analytics, it may seem a bit quaint.
But it’s still practiced by many. In fact, some candidates like to impress people by telling you how many doors “they’ve hit” in a given day, weekend, or even the entire campaign.
To catch the drift of current canvassing, I spent time Thursday afternoon with Felice, the Republican mayor of this Morris County town, as she sought out voters in the Sutton Woods condo complex, armed with a voters’ list. The list tells you party registration and more importantly, those who regularly vote. This promises to be a low turnout election, so faithful voters are quite important.
All towns are different, but this type of activity is undoubtedly being duplicated throughout New Jersey.
Felice called the complex a “purple district.” In some ways, this is a purple town.
A generation or so ago, Chatham Township was solidly Republican. Things changed over time. Democrats took control, but they lost it in the 2021 election when Republicans earned a 3-2 advantage on the governing body. That’s when Felice became mayor.
The GOP had a chance to take total control last year, but the Dems held their two seats.
Two Republican seats are up this year, as is political control of the township committee.
Controlling town government is important because the dominant party can put its philosophical stamp on a town through appointments it makes to various boards and the people it puts in key positions – like town attorney.
Whether average people care about such intricacies is debatable, but politicians do.
Elections come and go when they come and go. This one is occurring with Felice eight months pregnant, but she still was up for trekking through the complex. She was joined by Justin Musella, a Parsippany councilman, who had some practical advice. If you ring a bell and the barking dog inside the house sounds like “Cujo,” just drop your literature outside and go on to the next stop.
Since Felice is the current mayor, she began her spiel to voters by asking if there is anything the town can do for them. Most of the time, people said, “no” or “not really.”
One woman spoke about crime, which was a key Republican talking point in the 2022 midterm election.
In this area, automobile thefts are the crime of concern.
Felice said the township is on it. She spoke of a recently received grant that would establish a fiber optic cable system to allow law enforcement to better keep track of those who steal cars.
More broadly, Felice told one voter:
“My issues are making sure our taxes are very low – as low as possible.”
She also described herself as “adamantly pro-police” and one who opposes “massive overdevelopment.” As an example of the latter, she pointed to neighboring Chatham Borough. (Yes, in home rule New Jersey, there are two Chathams).
This was also a subtle political dig. Chatham Borough is totally controlled by Democrats.
Veteran politicians will tell you that most people really are nice when you ring their bells. So, candidates often get a friendly response. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to vote for you.
The best story I heard years ago was from a guy who said “everyone seemed to love me” when he dropped by their home.
He ended up getting swamped on Election Day. Go figure.
Let’s also keep in mind that canvassing is a bipartisan endeavor.
Many of the doors Felice and Musella visited had bright orange literature hanging from the doorknobs in support of Democratic candidates Jennifer Rowland and Marty McHugh. The Republican candidate running with Felice is fellow incumbent Mark Hamilton.
In some places, candidates remove their opponents’ campaign pieces whenever they can.
But Felice left the Dems’ literature alone and just put her message on the door knob as well.
This is a very polite township – even when it comes to politics.