Tuesday November 01, 2016

Winnipeg woman leads team of Canadians campaigning for Clinton in Florida

Cheryl Conley-Strange at a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton presided over by President Obama on October 28th.

Cheryl Conley-Strange at a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton presided over by President Obama on October 28th. (Courtesy of Cheryl Conley-Strange)

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For most Canadians, a trip to Florida means some sought after time in the sun, but not for Cheryl Conley-Strange.

She didn't fly south to chill. She flew to Florida to campaign for Hillary Clinton — and she didn't go alone. She's tagging along with a contingent of Canadian women who want to help Clinton win that swing state — and the presidency. 
    
Cheryl Conley-Strange spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Kissimmee, Florida. Here's part of their conversation.

Carol Off: Cheryl, why did you decide to go to the United States to campaign for Hillary Clinton?

Cheryl Conley-Strange: Well, a few girlfriends and I had talked about it for quite some time. I have a group of very political friends. We've all worked on Canadian campaigns. I've worked on every Canadian federal election since 1979. So it had kind of been on our radar screen. And after my husband and I bought a home down here, we started talking about it right after that. 

"[M]y home is actually situated in the I-4 corridor, which is the most important part of Florida for the Democrats to win." - Cheryl Conley-Strange, Canadian campaigning for Clinton

CO: Why Florida? Why did you think that was the best place to campaign?

CCS: Well, it made it a lot easier just because I did have a place down here. And what I didn't know at the time — when I had invited [my friends] to come — was that Florida was a swing state. And that my home is actually situated in the I-4 corridor, which is the most important part of Florida for the Democrats to win. It's in central Florida. The I-4 relates to the Interstate called the I-4. And it runs from Tampa to Orlando. What they're saying down here is whoever can win the I-4 corridor will take Florida. And whoever takes Florida gets the 29 electoral college votes because it's winner take all. So it's very, very important.

"No one who is canvassing out there is saying where they're from. We're just going door-to-door like anyone." - Cheryl Conley-Strange

CO: So what is it that you and your friends think you can do to persuade anybody one way or another to vote for Hillary Clinton?

CCS: Well, we're not really here in that role. We're here to help distribute literature. We advise people about early voting, when the times are. It's more informational than influence, I would say.

CO: Are you knocking on doors?

CCS: Yeah. As a matter of fact, I was here in September to do some advance work for our team — because there are 13 of us coming. And so I told the organizers here that I wanted to do a little bit of everything. So I've been doing phone calls, door-knocking . . . Today, I'm a greeter in the campaign headquarters. So I'm just doing a little bit of everything.

CO: Thirteen of your friends are joining you?

Cheryl Conley-Strange

Cheryl Conley-Strange with her ticket to a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton, hosted by President Obama, in Orlando, Florida, October 28, 2016. (Courtesy of Cheryl Conley-Strange)

CCS: Yes. Five are arriving tomorrow and seven will be arriving on Saturday. The original group was six of us, but the Liberal Party had a national convention in Winnipeg last June. And people started talking about the fact that the six of us were going. And the next thing I knew my phone started ringing and other people wanted to come.

CO: And are you all women?

CCS: We're all women.

CO: And what kind of reaction are you getting as Canadians, who are working in this American election?

CCS: Well, the Democratic organizers are just thrilled that we're here. I was a campaign manager in the last three federal elections in Canada and getting volunteers is hard in both countries. So to have twelve people landing here to help them? They're just thrilled. 

CO: How would you react if an American knocked on your door and told you what voting preferences they might suggest?

"It's very close here in Florida. And that's why we're here. I told them all when I arrived, 'You're our only neighbour. We're just here to be neighbourly.'" - Cheryl Conley-Strange

CCS: Well, I do know that in the last federal election, there were American Democrats that did come up to Canada. But that's not our role, what you're describing. When we do go door-to-door, we just merely give them information, tell them where they can early vote. We do identify, [but] no one who is canvassing out there is saying where they're from. We're just going door to door like anyone. They give us a script and it's not part of the script. I actually know there's a woman from Japan here campaigning. 

CO: How different is it, campaigning in the States from the work you've done in Canada?

CCS: The most difficult thing for me is the terminology. Because in Canada, there's ridings. Here, there's districts. Here, there's pod. We have polls. Even though the structure is similar, all the terminology is different.

CO: It's also, for Canadians, difficult to understand the electoral college. That's always the exam question.

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Winnipegger Cheryl Conley-Strange canvasses for Hillary Clinton in Kissimmee, Florida. (The Canadian Press)

CCS: Yeah. I have a friend who lives in Washington, D.C. And I contacted her a few months ago and I said, "OK, explain this to me so I understand it." And she did. And now I get it.

CO: Do you think there are many Canadians who are down in the United States working on campaigns?

CCS: I think they're all over. But you know, if you're going to take the time and you're going to come down here and help, you should go somewhere that's a swing state.

CO: Do you think there are Canadians trying to help Donald Trump get elected?

CCS: It wouldn't surprise me. I know that Canadians have gone down in previous years to help Republicans. I'm sure there are. I don't know any of them. But it wouldn't surprise me.

CO: Are there any legal limitations to what you can contribute to the campaign as a foreigner?

CCS: Yes. You cannot make donations. We can't buy any materials that are produced by the DNC. We can't buy T-shirts or buttons or anything. In stores, in the airport, they're selling things. We can buy that. But we can't buy anything from the Republican or the Democratic Party. Or any political party in the United States. 

CO: Where are you going to be on election night?

CCS: Well, I'm working out of an office in Kissimmee. I'm sure that we'll be here all day. But they have not announced where the victory party will be yet.

CO: And you know there's going to be a victory party?

CCS: I'm sure there is.

CO: For somebody. But do you think there's a victory party for your candidate?

CCS: It's very close here in Florida. So I don't know. And that's why we're here. I told them all when I arrived, "You're our only neighbour. We're just here to be neighbourly."

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Cheryl Conley-Strange.