Among Richard Nixon’s underappreciated lifelong grievances was a deep contempt for the practice of canvassing. “There’s a myth that’s grown up about my first campaign and even the campaign for the Senate. They point out that I worked hard, which I did, and that we used to go door-to-door and ask people to vote for us. Never,” Nixon later reflected. “I could do it in small groups or even large groups, but going individually in and invading the privacy of a home and saying, ‘Will you vote for me, and here’s a piece of literature.’ If they came to my place, I’d kick them out. I would understand it if they did that to me.”
On a recent Saturday morning, several dozen activists with no such qualms gathered in the offices of an AIDS support organization in Whittier, the same town where Nixon launched that first congressional campaign in 1946. The attendees represent a Southern California that Nixon never knew, and could have conjured only as a caution to his Silent Majority about how difficult it is to keep things as they are. Many were young women who had arrived in groups from college campuses, nearly all recruited by the Los Angeles LGBT Center or the county’s Planned Parenthood chapter to fan out to talk to voters about abortion. “We want to change people’s minds in the long term, not just through election day,” said Laura Gardiner, the Center’s national mentoring coordinator, told the activists.