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PAXTON — Charlotte Hampton’s interest in politics developed long before she was old enough to vote. She remembers when she was 9 years old, sitting in her grandparents’ home in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, absorbing the conversation as her father, a Republican, and grandfather, a Democrat, would argue “constantly” about politics.
It was during those household debates that Hampton chose her party affiliation for the many elections that would come. But not until this year did the retired Paxton woman, who refuses to disclose her age, decide to get more involved in the Republican party.
Last spring, Hampton was elected a Republican precinct committeeman in Ford County. The unpaid job has meant attending monthly precinct committee meetings, knocking on more than 200 doors in her neighborhood, distributing yard signs, and making lots of phone calls as she tries to help spread the message of the Republican party leading up to Election Day.
“At one point, I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m tired; maybe I’ll just quit,’ but then I thought, ‘You know what? If I get up that next morning and Obama wins, I know it’s my fault,’ so I’ve kept on going,” Hampton said.
Under the leadership of one-time state representative candidate Tom Bennett of Gibson City, the Ford County Republican Central Committee has been trying to be more visible this election year. Besides trying to get the vote out in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election, the group of 15 precinct committeemen has made a presence at various community events, now holds monthly public meetings and recently formed a Republican women’s club for Ford County.
The group’s goal is to increase voter turnout for registered Republicans from an average of about 60 percent in most general elections to 75 percent on Nov. 6.
“We’ll see if we make (the goal) or not,” said Bennett, the group’s chairman. “I think people are more focused now, between what’s happening with the campaigns, the debates and everything else, so hopefully we can get a good turnout on Nov. 6.”
Getting the vote out
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, local Republican party members have been going door-to-door in their respective precincts to encourage people to register to vote and cast a ballot, while also spreading the message of their party and asking people to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Hampton, who represents the Patton 1 precinct, said that since September, she had talked with an estimated 117 people in her precinct and left informational brochures created by the Ford County Republican Central Committee at the homes of some 90 other people who were not home at the time of her visit.
And she is not done yet.
“There still are a few houses out there I probably could get to,” she said Friday.
Each person who gets a visit receives a brochure containing information about local Republican elected officials, the contact information of Ford County precinct committeemen, the 2012 platform of the Republican party and the 2012 platform of the local Republican party. A list of candidates endorsed by the local GOP group is also provided, along with information about the GOP’s concerns about President Barack Obama’s actions as president.
Ford County Precinct Committeeman Denis Fisher of Gibson City said he has been to some 250 homes.
“The reception I get is very cordial, even though I’m representing the Republican party and I’ve just gone from one house to the next, without regard to what their political preference is,” said Fisher, who represents the Drummer 4 precinct.
Fisher said that regardless of their political affiliation, he reminds each resident to cast a ballot.
“I’m hoping we can get everybody in Ford County to go to the polls on Tuesday and cast their ballot,” Fisher said.
Hampton said that only a few people have told her they are not interested — and even those people were left with a flier and some other information.
“Everybody, or almost everybody, I’ve talked to wanted to talk about politics and wanted to discuss the situation that’s going on right now and what we’re up against,” Hampton said. “It was surprising. I had several people just thank me for doing this.”
Phil Peterson of rural Gibson City, a precinct committeeman for the Drummer 2 precinct, said “people are definitely fired up.”
“Most of the folks I’ve talked to do not like the direction the country’s going in, and they want to provide a better path,” Peterson said.
Said Fisher: “Almost all of them will say that they have voted or they’re planning on voting, and most of them say, ‘Yes, we need some change,’” Fisher said. “So I’m hoping that it’s a reflection of what we’ve been doing as a Ford County Republican organization.”
Besides getting the word out about voting, the door-to-door visits are also designed to create awareness of the local Republican party’s activity.
“As I told most people, because the Republican party has been so quiet for so long around here, I just really kind of wanted people to know that the Republican party is alive and well in Ford County,” Hampton said, “and that hopefully we would be contacting them some other time.”
Registering people to vote was part of the goal, as well. Precinct committeemen are authorized to register voters at their homes or any other location, Hampton noted.
“I registered one little young lady to vote, and she was just old enough and had come to me and wanted to know if I would,” Hampton said. “She was so tickled. I bet she said ‘thank you’ 50 times.
“There are nine people who are going to vote this year who would not have voted if I hadn’t made a little bit of extra effort.”
Hampton said that in addition to her visits to homes, she made numerous phone calls. Hampton said she called a few people who she knew who were no longer living in her precinct and reminded them to change their address on their voter registration card so they could vote.
“They thanked me because they hadn’t even thought about it (and the voter registration deadline was approaching),” Hampton said.
Bennett, who was appointed as the Republican Central Committee’s chairman after losing his bid for a state representative’s seat in the March primary election, said that since the party was reorganized under his leadership, the group has made strides to make the party more visible.
The group had a presence at various community events, including the Ford County Fair, the Sibley Fourth of July Parade and the Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration in Paxton.
“We’re just trying to get the word out about what the party believes, what we want to focus on,” Bennett said.
The committeemen are also now meeting monthly on the third Saturday of each month. Bennett, who represents the Drummer 5 precinct, said he is trying to have the group meet at a different location every month, so that eventually a meeting will be held in every village and city in the county.
Women’s club formed
Val Hunt, a self-described political activist from Gibson City, also credits Bennett with the creation of the Ford County Republican Women’s Club, which was started up just recently. Bennett came up with the idea, and Gwen Ennen of Paxton took control from there, Hunt said. Ennen is now the club’s president.
The club’s goal is to get the word out about voting, especially during election years, but also to maintain the Republican party’s activity in non-election years, said the 84-year-old Hunt, whose late husband, Tom, served as vice chairman of the central committee for many years.
The club is now working on its bylaws in preparation for joining the National Federation of Republican Women; its next meeting is in November.
The club needs at least 10 members to be recognized by the national federation, and Hunt, who is a member of the group, said that number has already been surpassed.
“But we still need more members,” Hunt said.
Many Ford County residents of all ages are getting involved today because they want the best for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I wouldn’t have passed this up for anything,” Hampton said of her political involvement. “I’m just amazed there’s some really wonderful people out there, and an awful lot of people who look at things the way we do.”