What is the most important issue for you?
That’s the first question Will Haskell asks people when he knocks on their door.
Haskell, a Democrat, is challenging Republican incumbent state Sen. Toni Boucher for her seat in Connecticut’s General Assembly. Boucher, a Wilton native, has held the seat in the 26th District since 2009.
Haskell, 22, grew up in Westport and graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in May. This is his first time running for office.
The 26th Senate District includes Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding, Weston, Bethel, and New Canaan.
Both Haskell — a New Canaan resident — and Boucher recently shared their campaigning experiences going door to door in different neighborhoods within their coverage area.
Haskell said knocking on doors is the most effective way to meet voters. On a recent steamy Friday afternoon in Redding, he spent about two hours ringing bells on Deacon Abbott Lane, Deacon Abbott Road and Lonetown Road.
While most residents on those blocks weren’t home on that particular day, Haskell talked about many of his prior experiences going door to door while Boucher shared her own experiences by phone later that day.
The top issues that people bring up to both candidates when they’re going door to door include gun violence prevention, and immigration.
Other topics of concern include abortion, the opioid crisis, special education, elderly parents, and being upset with President Donald Trump.
Taxes and transportation were among the topics people brought up to Haskell that afternoon in Redding. Haskell was ready to offer comments and answer questions on both of them.
Boucher said while there are many common state- and country-wide issues that come up when going door to door, residents sometimes bring up subjects that pertain to them personally.
This includes a pothole no one repaired in their neighborhood and no longer being able to afford their home.
One never fully knows what the person on the other side of the door will say, and can therefore never be completely prepared ahead of time.
“It’s like opening up a gift,” Boucher said. “You don’t know what’s inside the package, so you are never quite sure what someone is going to say.”
She added that many times, people “just want to get something off their chest and need a sounding board.”
On one occasion, Boucher said when a man opened his door and saw Boucher, he wanted to have a face off with her on meatballs.
“I’m famous for making Italian meatballs,” Boucher said.
While they never had the face off, they had fun trading cooking secrets, according to Boucher.
Haskell said people have shown him compassion after realizing how long he had been outside and how far he had walked that day.
One day, in the middle of a downpour in Westport, a person opened her door and told Haskell, “I’ll vote for you only if you come inside.”
While both candidates agreed the overwhelming majority of people they visit are warm and friendly, they said there have been a few exceptions.
“I’ve had people who slam the door in my face,” said Boucher, adding that on one occasion, “Someone demanded I get off their property.”
Haskell said one time, things got physical.
“In Westport, I rang a bell and a man came out of his home and shoved me off his front porch,” said Haskell, who walked quickly away from that home, completely taken off guard by the episode.
Both candidates said they’ve encountered unfriendly dogs.
During Haskell’s recent walk, he was heading down a long, narrow driveway when two dogs began barking loudly and coming toward him. Fortunately, the homeowner had an electronic fence, which prevented the dogs from getting too close. Haskell turned around and left the property.
Boucher said she’s usually not intimidated when most dogs see her.
“I have a way with animals. I have been very fortunate,” Boucher said. “Sometimes I have a treat with me.”
One day while going door to door, Boucher said she needed to step in and help someone. Through a window at a home located deep in the woods, Boucher saw an elderly woman walking around who appeared disoriented. She called social services.
“I was concerned about her,” Boucher said. “She was very isolated where she lives.”
No one answers
Both candidates said there are many occasions when no one answers the doorbell.
This happened several times on Haskell’s recent walk: He saw a glimpse of someone through a window, but no one came to the door.
In those cases, or when residents don’t appear to be home, Haskell said he always makes sure to sign his name on his campaign material before leaving it at their door.
“I do this so residents will know it was me, personally, who paid them a visit,” he said.
Haskell and Boucher said overall, they enjoy knocking on doors and hearing what’s on residents’ minds.
“It’s where you learn the most,” Boucher said. “You will learn the trends — what people are worried about right now.”
“Door to door has become my go-to place to feel better about politics, people, and get re-inspired and energized when campaigns get really difficult,” she added. “It’s where I find my inspiration for doing what I’m doing.”
Haskell said prior to running for office, he didn’t fully understand what campaigning meant.
“I thought it would be going to events or speaking engagements,” he said. “Instead, it’s walking down really long driveways hoping to meet a voter at the end of the door.”