The dreary work of campaign field operations—knocking on doors, chatting up old people and cold calling for a candidate—is often carried out by eager college students wanting to make their first inroads into politics.
That was not the case on Ridgewood Street in Ames on Dec. 15, when some of Hillary Clinton’s richest and most influential bundlers and donors—Hassan and Sheila Nemazee, Alan and Susan Patricof, and the former ambassador to Norway, Robin Duke—braved the icy elements and doorman-less ingresses of Iowa to proselytize for their good friend Hillary.
“Number-one convert!” shouted Mr. Nemazee, a multimillionaire investment banker who served as John Kerry’s New York finance chair in 2004. “I moved them from an Edwards to a Hillary.”
Mr. Nemazee, wearing iron-creased jeans, comfortable brown shoes, a blue winter coat and a red baseball cap emblazoned with a Ferrari stallion, was stepping cautiously along an ice-paved walk.
Across the street, Ms. Duke worked the even-numbered houses and was having a tougher time of it.
“Yoo-hoooo. Is anybody home?” she said as she pushed a screen door open and let herself through the sun porch of 728 Ridgewood. She peeked in the darkened window. “They’re all out Christmas shopping. Oh, wait. Oh, how do you do there?”
A woman with a suspicious look answered the door as the 84-year-old ambassador, dressed in an overcoat, checkered green pantsuit and green bowler hat rimmed with fine feathers, introduced herself, confidingly, as a friend of Mrs. Clinton. “I came all the way from New York and I know her and I can tell you she is so qualified,” said Ms. Duke, pushing some campaign literature into the reluctant woman’s arms.
The woman shook her head and curtly explained that she was with John Edwards. Ms. Duke graciously wished her a pleasant day and admired the roller skates hanging from her front door. “Well, I didn’t make a convert there,” she said after the door closed.
She paused at the edge of the driveway to express worry that, without a campaign clipboard to tell her which doors to knock on, she might waste time on Republicans or people her donor friends had already bothered. “I don’t want to be repetitive,” she said.
Surrounded by snow-plastered trees and houses and lawns and cars, she gingerly made her way on the sidewalk to the next house. “At least they have the crunchy stuff,” she said.
Back across the street, Mr. Nemazee had his own issues with the ice.
“I’m going to break my neck!” he screamed. “Where did Sheila go?” He meant his wife, who had the clipboards with the lists of voters most likely to support Mrs. Clinton. “I can’t find her.”
A few moments later, Ms. Nemazee, an attractive, amiable woman in a wool hat, walked out of a house with a clipboard.
“Sheila. Eight Fifteen. Nobody home,” her husband called out upon seeing her (815 had an Obama lawn sign sticking out of the snow).
Sniffling in the cold, Mr. Nemazee rang the doorbell at 817. An elderly woman with short hair came to the door.
“I’ve come on behalf of Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Nemazee said, pleasantly. “I’m blessed, because I know many of these people running personally. May I ask you who you are supporting?”
The woman said Bill Richardson was her first choice, because of his experience, and after that she like John Edwards. Mr. Nemazee asked if she planned to caucus.
“Yes,” she said, “it’s a very nice neighborhood event.”
Mr. Nemazee then asked her to consider supporting Mrs. Clinton if the other two candidates proved unviable. “You know,” said the woman, “I’m very fond of her, I’m not against her.”
Mr. Nemazee rewarded her with a Hillary campaign button. The young man who answered the next door had less interest in taking a button. “I’d be disowned for it,” he said.
Down the street, Susan Patricof waved hello. She wore a big coat and brown corduroys.
As the Nemazees and Ms. Duke came to greet her, Alan Patricof, the New York venture capitalist who founded a $20 billion private equity firm, appeared wearing jeans, brown hiking boots, a striped wool hat and a blue Hillary sticker on his gray Phat Farm coat. (The label’s founder, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, has called Mr. Patricof his “godfather.”)
“Susan’s the best,” Mr. Patricof told the Nemazees and Ms. Duke. “She was invited in for eggnog.”
After a brief chat, Mr. Patricof got back to business. On the walk up to the stoop of 1013, he said it was a tribute to Mrs. Clinton’s strength as a candidate “that five people from New York came out to walk the streets of Ames, Iowa, in 13-degree weather.”
As he removed his fingerless ski gloves to ring the doorbell, Mr. Patricof, a craggy-faced native New Yorker, complained that they didn’t keep his hands warm. A man with pink skin and a round face, like a character from the board game Guess Who?, answered the door.
“My name is Alan Patricof and I’m here from New York City for Hillary,” said Mr. Patricof.
“Well, you’ve got the wrong guy,” said the man. “I’m a Republican.”
“Well, everyone is entitled to their opinions,” said Mr. Patricof.
On the next house’s stoop, he shivered and wondered why the people of Ames didn’t go south for the winter. He pondered a copy of The Des Moines Register wrapped in snow-dusted plastic in front of the door, and deduced that the people of Ames read their papers later in the day.
Russ Hoffman answered the door in an Iowa State sweatshirt and plastic clogs. Mr. Patricof bent down to pick his paper up for him.
“We come from New York City,” said Mr. Patricof. “Five of us are out here, and this particular group is fortunate because we all know the candidates personally. I’ve known Hillary since 1988 and she’s highly qualified.”
Mr. Hoffman invited Mr. Patricof in.
In a shag-carpeted living room decorated with a Christmas tree, a yellow beanbag chair and children’s toys, the two men sat on opposite couches and discussed the candidates. A frisky white spaniel jumped up to Mr. Patricof’s knee. Mr. Hoffman shooed him off and said that he liked Mr. Edwards.
“Should I tell you the difference, since I know them all?” offered Mr. Patricof. “Hillary is ready to go.” He plucked off his hat and his wavy silver hair spilled out. “She knows so many foreign leaders; none of the others have any of the experience she has had on a foreign level.”
Mr. Patricof, who has a gruff, direct way of speaking, then told Mr. Hoffman about his own foreign experience: about his visit to Alexandria, Egypt, a month ago and Paris last week, and how the perception of the United States had suffered in the past seven years. Hillary was the one to restore the credibility, he said. And besides, “The fact that we are out says a lot.”
Mr. Hoffman calmly responded that a lot of people knock on his door, and that he liked the way Mr. Obama “thinks off the top of his head.” “I don’t think I see so much of that out of Hillary,” he said.
Mr. Patricof’s phone rang, and Mr. Hoffman assured him he would not be offended if he answered it. It was his wife and the others wondering where he had gone. He had been in the living room for nearly 10 minutes.
A couple of additional minutes went by without Mr. Patricof making much progress. Ms. Patricof called again.
“They’re freezing their asses off out there,” he said, and thanked Mr. Hoffman for his time.
THE BUNDLERS REGROUPED in a cobalt Chevy van idling at the intersection of Lee and Ridgewood, and plotted their next move.
Ambassador Duke suggested that they go to town and work the shops on Main Street. But Mr. Nemazee reminded them of their instructions to steer clear of businesses.
"I almost took a fall out there,” interrupted Mr. Patricof.
“Me too,” said Mr. Nemazee.
“Very slippery,” said Ms. Duke.
After some more discussion, the group agreed to pick up a Hillary volunteer at the office and try their luck at a local retirement home. With Mr. Nemazee behind the wheel, the van drove to a railroad crossing, where they waited for a long freight train carrying logging supplies and empty animal cars to pass, then drove through Iowa State University and to the small Clinton storefront where Hollie Russon Gilman, a 21-year-old volunteer in a purple hat, short skirt and black tights hopped in the back with a bag of brown cookies for the seniors.
The Waterford at Ames Assisted Living retirement home had Christmas figurines, walkers and listless seniors in its lobby. As Ms. Gilman went to plead with a stern, thick-armed manager for access to the dining room during dinner, the New York contingent waited around, contemplating unfinished puzzles, discussing who would get the Des Moines Register endorsement and trying to win more converts. (“You going to caucus?” Mr. Patricof asked a woman sitting in front of her walker.)
The manager allowed the bundlers to visit a few Clinton enthusiasts with whom the campaign had had some contact. Lenore Pearey, an elderly woman who lived in a room packed with scores of porcelain and stuffed dolls, had Hillary’s name painted on all of her nails. (“I’m trying to promote her by my fingernails,” she explained.) When she complained from the depths of a love seat that she had no way of getting to a caucus the bundlers burst out in chorus: “We’ll get you a ride.”
A few minutes later, Mr. Nemazee and Mr. Patricof tried together to convince another avid Hillary supporter, Marie Baldus, to go to caucus.
“I can’t,” she said. “My legs.”
“It’s really, really important,” said Mr. Nemazee.
“A reason we have George Bush is because a lot of people didn’t make the effort,” added Mr. Patricof.
“Oh, yes,” she agreed. “But my legs.”
The retirement home’s manager came to the room to tell the New Yorkers that they couldn’t campaign at dinnertime because it could upset residents with dementia. Mr. Patricof protested and Ms. Duke, ever the ambassador, tried to assure the woman that they would leave immediately at the first sign that their presence was a disturbance. The manager refused.
Ms. Gilman, who bounced around like she her shoes had been corked, took it upon herself to console the group, and suggested that they prospect for Hillary supporters at a local farmer’s market.
After another short drive, Mr. Nemazee got out of the car, sidestepped the mix of grey sludge and ice that divided the cars. “Alan,” he called out. “Where’s Alan. He forgot the keys to lock the door.”
“Uh, we don’t have money if we want to buy things,” added Ms. Patricof.
Mr. Patricof waved them off and kept walking. “I have money,” he said.
The group entered a small store that sold soaps, artisanal napkins, ceramics and homemade cookies, which were dispersed on plates around the store. A young couple paid $15 to pile an assortment of the cookies into white Styrofoam containers. Mr. Patricof muttered that the cost seemed a bit steep.
Mr. Nemazee introduced himself and the rest of the group to the two women minding the store and then made his pitch for Hillary. “We know her,” he said. “We know her and we came all the way up from New York to talk about her.”
The two women, who seemed a little taken aback, promised to think about it and politely suggested that the visitors have a look around the store. The field operatives didn’t need much encouragement. Mr. Patricof bought cookies and pumpkin butter. Ms. Nemazee bought coffee. Ms. Duke bought soaps, and Mr. Nemazee, seeing that Ms. Gilman had her eye on a canvas bag, took out a wad of cash and said, “You like the bag? Get the bag.”
After some polite protest, she got the bag.
The bundlers drove back to the Clinton storefront for phone bank duties. Sitting down one next to the other under a crate paper sign that read “Hillary’s All Stars,” they accepted call lists and bottles of water from Ms. Gilman.
“I feel like I’m in kindergarten,” said Ms. Nemazee sportingly.
“I need more names than these,” barked Mr. Patricof. “I’ll get through these in minutes.”
Mr. Nemazee seemed to be the most natural cold-caller. He managed to engage several voters, even those not necessarily supporting Mrs. Clinton, in conversations that played on his personal relationships with the candidates and sometimes ended with him announcing, to no one in particular, “Leaning Clinton.”
Mr. Patricof, leaning back with his legs folded in the chair, cupped the phone’s receiver and called, “Hollie. Hollie. Where’s the list of locations?”
Ms. Patricof commiserated with one of the campaign’s young volunteers about her outing on Ridgewood Street. “It was mixed—there was a lot of Edwards,” she said. She didn’t seem to have much luck on the phones either. “Everybody hangs up on me,” she said.
Ms. Duke, sitting next to a wicker basket full of granola bars and fruit, kept saying she was “calling from Hillary headquarters” but seemed to be leaving a lot of messages.
After about 20 minutes of calls, Ms. Gilman bounded out of her office papered with maps of Iowa and informed the guests that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would be in nearby Marshalltown that night to give a speech. Would they like to go?
“She’s a close friend of mine,” said Ms. Duke. “I’d be glad to go.”
As Mr. Nemazee looked for the cell phone number of former Iowa governor and Clinton backer Tom Vilsack to let him know they were coming to Marshalltown. Mr. Patricof looked for coffee.
Ms. Gilman bopped over to the kitchen and poured some Folgers Crystals into the coffee machine. When asked what she thought of her special group of volunteers, she started saying, “Their actual care and dedication has been amazing to me,” but her answer was interrupted by Mr. Patricof calling, “Hollie, Hollie, Hollie. What’s the number here? She wants a ride.”
After providing the woman on the phone the correct number to call for a ride to the caucus, Mr. Patricof walked proudly over to the kitchen and declared “I got one. Converted. We’re picking her up. Well, not me.”
Then, looking at the first drips of coffee dropping into the coffee pot, he turned back towards Ms. Gilman’s office and said, “I thought you said you already had the coffee.”