Nene Diallo has been knocking on doors for a couple of hours now, but approaches each new house with fresh enthusiasm.

Every time someone answers the door, she explains that she is campaigning with Unite Here, the union that represents Diallo and 300,000 other workers in the hospitality industry. She is urging voters to consider supporting Pennsylvania Democrats, especially gubernatorial candidate and Senate candidate Josh Shapiro John Fettermanin the upcoming midterm elections.

Diallo repeats this process dozens of times on a fortunate, sunny October morning in the working-class suburb of Upper Darby. Philadelphia with a large immigrant community.

An immigrant herself from the West African country of Guinea who became a US citizen in 2019, Diallo is uniquely suited to the task. At one point, she switches seamlessly from English to French to ask a Haitian man how he’s going to vote. “Vous allez en personne ou par mail?“, she asks.

Diallo is one of hundreds of Unite Here members involved in the union’s grassroots campaigning efforts in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania, the largest such operation in each of the battlefield states. Those three states could determine control of the U.S. Senate in November and are home to several House races that will be key to Democrats’ hopes of retaining their majority in the lower house.

Clerks demonstrate ballot processing machines ahead of the 2022 US midterm elections in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Ryan Collerd/AFP/Getty Images

After providing Democrats with some crucial help in 2020, Unite Here campaigners are back on the ground knocking on doors for party candidates. They hope their one-on-one conversations with neighbors, colleagues and friends can help Democrats avoid the kind of sweeping losses the presidential party typically sees in midterm elections, and they’re determined to knock on every door they can before Nov. 8.

Unite Here’s leaders have already proven that they know how to design and run a sophisticated campaign operation to boost the electoral prospects of the Democrats.

In 2020, when Joe Biden’s campaign and many other prominent Democratic organizations were wary of door-knocking because of the pandemic, Unite Here partnered with an epidemiologist to develop safety protocols to make contactless campaigning possible.

By the time the polls closed on Election Day 2020, Unite Here organizers had knocked on 3 million doors in four battleground states. In Nevada and Arizona, the number of absentee voters identified by Unite Here in 2016 exceeded the margin of victory for Biden, prompting the union to boast that he had won the two states for Democrats.

Nevada’s Unite Here’s Culinary Union has long been a political force, but larger-scale campaigning efforts in states like Pennsylvania are new. Roslyn Vucinich, president of Unite Here Local 274 and director of Philadelphia’s Workers for the Front, said she and her colleagues were compelled to act after witnessing Donald Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania in the 2016 election.

“Watching a hotel and casino owner win our state made us determined to never let anything like this happen again,” Vucinich said in the backyard of her Philadelphia home. “So when 2020 came around and we had the opportunity to do a massive operation, we jumped at it.”

A sign directing voters in Pennsylvania to a polling place.  The state is a key battleground for control of the U.S. Senate this year.
A sign directing voters in Pennsylvania to a polling place. The state is a key battleground for control of the U.S. Senate this year. Photo: Quinn Glabicki/Reuters

Even with Biden in office and Democrats in control of the House and Senate, Vucinic and her Unite Here colleagues are taking nothing for granted, knocking on doors six days a week in the month leading up to Election Day.

The Philadelphia-based team recently celebrated knocking on more than 10,000 doors in one day, one of the company’s best days ever. Their counterparts out west have been just as diligent, with Nevada organizers already knocking on more doors this campaign season than in 2020, a remarkable achievement given that midterm elections typically attract less attention than presidential races.

Timothy Freeman, a member of Unite Here for 12 years and a campaigner in Philadelphia, said he and other organizers have made it a point to highlight the importance of the upcoming election when they talk to voters.

“They may not know. They’re only thinking about the presidential election,” Freeman said after a morning campaign in Upper Darby. “Every election is important. Every election is connected. So we need to get out there to let them know how important it is.”

Early voting is lining up in the US.  In Philadelphia, campaigners like Timothy Freeman are urging the electorate to get out and cast their vote in the midterm elections.
Early voting is lining up in the US. In Philadelphia, campaigners like Timothy Freeman are urging the electorate to get out and cast their vote in the midterm elections. Photo: Tannen Maury/EPA

But Unite Here campaigners are talking to voters about more than just the upcoming election.

While knocking on doors in Upper Darby, Diallo asked voters about their desire to join the Unite Here Hospitality Academy, a two-week program that guarantees participants a job with the union upon graduation. One woman, an immigrant from the West African country of Togo, chatted excitedly with Diallo and her campaign partner as she filled out an interest form for the academy.

“I don’t want voters to feel like we’re just here to get your vote. You know, we care about all of you,” said Frederick Hollis, a 22-year member of Unite Here and head of the campaign group in Philadelphia.

The prospect of a union job may have particular resonance this year, when inflation has reached record levels and cost-of-living anxiety has crept in with it. A CNN poll taken this month showed the economy and inflation as the top issues for voters in the three battleground states, with 44% of respondents in Pennsylvania citing it as their top priority.

Volunteers help voters cast their ballots at an early voting location in Maryland.
Volunteers help voters cast their ballots at an early voting location in Maryland. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Those concerns have contributed to Biden’s lackluster approval ratings — which have been underwater for more than a year — and the economic disillusionment among voters that threatens to drag down candidates like Fetterman and Shapiro.

When he talks to working families concerned about everything from rising prices to gun violence to access to abortion, Hollis explains how he can relate to their struggles.

“A lot of people I talk to have the same thing as me. So telling your story affects them as well, which gets people to vote,” Hollis said. “Then they tell their story. And the next thing you know, you’re sitting or standing on somebody’s porch for like 20 minutes, half an hour.”

Asked what he says to voters who criticize Democrats for the state of the economy, Hollis said, “I tell them to vote. Things won’t get better until we start voting and electing the right people.”

The personal, lasting connections Hollis and other organizers make with constituents are key to Unite Here’s success as a union and a political organization, its leaders say. Progressives have previously criticized Democratic leadership for failing to address the needs of some of its supporters, particularly low-income communities of color that are the focus of Unite Here’s campaigning.

“Most of the communities we campaign in have faced severe disinvestment, and many people feel abandoned by the government and the political system at both the national and local levels,” Vucinic said. “I think any national group needs to learn that the best way to get people involved in the political process is to have people from their own communities or similar communities to talk to and that they need to hear the issues that people are concerned about . are concerned about, not just who they vote for.’

Focusing on the specific needs of Unite Here voters could help insulate Democratic candidates in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania from a national environment that looks very favorable to Republicans. And in Pennsylvania, Vucinich and her colleagues have reason for optimism.

According to Shapira, there are nine points in the presidential race Five thirty eightalthough Fetterman’s advantage over his opponent Mehmet Oz, narrowed in recent weeks.

“I’m enthusiastic. We will win,” Hollis said with a smile on his face. “I’m going to kick the door down so we can bring it in for Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman. We will bring it to them.”

Vucnic is more cautious about her expectations, as the pain of Trump’s 2016 victory is still fresh in her mind. But her fears only strengthened her determination to speak to as many voters as possible before November 8.

“When I get nervous, I just remind myself that we didn’t do that in 2016,” Vucinich said. “We are an organized force fighting the very dangerous direction in which some people want to take this state and this country.”