The RNC’s Ground Game of Inches

This article appears in the June 2022 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here.

In some sense, it was predictable that my search for any information about one of the Republican National Committee’s two dozen community centers would lead me back to Facebook. Years had passed since I’d vacated my account, a period during which the site had been annexed as the primary digital station for conservative messaging. If the party’s newest grassroots outreach initiative existed anywhere online, it had to be here.

I was in search of a contact or a programming schedule at the RNC’s Native American Community Center in Pembroke, North Carolina, in the largely rural, poverty-addled county of Robeson, in the state’s southeast corner. Pembroke marked the 21st community center opened by the RNC of the 2022 election cycle, as part of an overt racial minority outreach program. At that point, in March, it was one of the party’s newest outposts, and the first specifically targeting Native Americans, hazy facts that I found out only because of some scattered local news coverage about its unveiling in late January. Since then, there’d been almost nothing written about it, not in sanguine RNC press releases or small-bore local coverage. If it weren’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have been entirely sure it even existed.

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Even then, I couldn’t find much. That the RNC Pembroke center had an infrequently updated Facebook page made it an exception; I couldn’t find active Facebook properties for the majority of the other RNC community centers that now dot the country, from Southern California to the Midwest to the South. Nor could I find the centers on Twitter or Instagram. A Google search yielded mostly local news coverage of ribbon-cuttings and nothing more. There are no individual websites for each outpost, or even a collective website that lists them all; the RNC’s homepage features only a camouflaged search bar that can be prodded to give up the location of your nearest branch. Buried in an interactive map advertising various regional outreach events (including “Election Day”) are some of the addresses, but there is no contact information given—no phone numbers, no emails, no names, nothing.

The RNC community center model is the latest attempt by Republicans to court nonwhite voters, who have long eschewed the party and been demonized by its leading representatives. But 2020’s frenzied election returns suggested an opportunity. Joe Biden’s share of votes from Latinos decreased by eight percentage points compared to Hillary Clinton’s, according to a report from the progressive data utility Catalist. As Vox reported, this marked the “most dramatic shift in a four-year period among the major racial or ethnic groups seen.” The movement was stunning in areas like South Texas, where five heavily Latino counties flipped to Donald Trump.

Biden’s vote share of Black Americans also decreased by three points, and the GOP overperformed with Asian Americans and Native Americans as well. It was something less than a breakthrough with nonwhite voters; Republicans losing Asian Americans by a 27 percent margin exhibited their best performance with any major racial minority bloc. But given the huge turnout increase in 2020, in raw numbers, Republicans put up vote totals that once would’ve seemed impossible even to the Pollyannaish.

The community centers were established to bore the opening further, making the appeal directly to racial minorities inside their communities, with an extremely offline, grassroots offering. This wasn’t a soft sell: The centers beckon potential voters with everything from movie nights to free dinners to holiday parties to gun safety trainings, thrown by local organizers and paid for by your friends at the RNC, which has dedicated millions of dollars to the program. If those tactics sound familiar, that’s because they were once used to great effect, by groups as varied as the Black Panthers in Oakland or Democrats in New York’s Tammany Hall.

Many of these facilities are set up in places like Florida and Texas, where Republicans are already assured victory statewide and, thanks to vicious gerrymanders, in most congressional districts. But they’re also in places where the party aspires only to shrink the drastic margins by which they’re losing, places like Philadelphia. Performing better with minorities is an existential matter for Republicans, who cannot win popular elections in an increasingly nonwhite country if they don’t improve with these groups.

The Robeson County center, the RNC’s only outpost in North Carolina, is neither. Republicans flipped long-blue Robeson County to red with Trump on the ticket, but now face a much more onerous task of getting its residents to vote for replacement-level Republicans in off years. Democrats, meanwhile, believed they would win statewide in North Carolina in 2020, in both the presidential election and the Senate, only to come up, in both cases, less than 100,000 votes short; they’re back at it this year to contest for another Senate vacancy.

All of which meant that the votes of North Carolina’s 55,000-member Lumbee Tribe that the RNC is aggressively pursuing could help decide a swing seat in a tied-up Senate, as well as one of the few competitive House races left in the country, NC-07. A majority-nonwhite, poverty-stricken region was the sort of place Democrats once dominated; you could also say it was exactly the sort of place they took for granted.

Multiple Democratic aides told me that they viewed the community center operation as a shambolic nonentity, a “nothingburger,” an earned media play at best, with the minimal online presence as proof.

But one local journalist, who covered the center’s unveiling, encouraged me to not mistake secrecy for inaction. “It’s just really, really boots on the ground,” she told me. “They were all over me when I was there, followed me around the entire time, and ushered me out right after it was over. They gave an award to this young woman for her work with them; they wouldn’t even give me her name.” After forwarding me a contact for the state’s RNC representative, she added, “Good luck.”

The Facebook page featured a partial list of events, a handful of photos, and a phone number, which I called. At the other end was Cale Lowery, the center’s director. When I asked for the calendar, he steered me right back to Facebook. When I asked for a more detailed set of programming, he asked me if I was a reporter. “I am,” I said. “Press aren’t really allowed,” he told me, and said he’d convey my information to an RNC rep, who would set me up with some managed, limited viewing.

The promised RNC press person never called—in fact, repeated interview requests and requests for comment to multiple RNC representatives returned no response. “The biggest thing is to actually show up,” Democratic House candidate Dan McCready told Politico in a 2020 piece about Democrats’ fading fortunes in Robeson County. When I finally saw mention of an upcoming week of action, I decided I’d do just that.

CHARLES GRAHAM FIRST SPOTTED the RNC Community Center in Pembroke just days after it opened in January. A colleague had mentioned it in passing, but he had to get to Main Street one Saturday afternoon to make sure it was real. “Wow,” he said to himself, “in a midterm election, what in the world?”

Graham, 71, is currently running for Congress in North Carolina’s Seventh District, which includes Robeson County. NC-07 leans Republican, but not by much, and Graham represents Democrats’ best hope in one of the few plausible red-to-blue flips left in the country in 2022. Locally, he’s best known as the six-term state representative from North Carolina’s 47th District, and the General Assembly’s only Native member.

I met Graham between campaign events in the back of his modest-looking office just off the highway, from which he runs his home health care business in Lumberton, the county seat. At the time, he was just a few months removed from a brush with virality. His first campaign ad went wild on Twitter, bagging 5.6 million views, an incipient national profile, and a laudatory interview with Don Lemon. The ad recounted the 1958 Battle of Hayes Pond, where a Lumbee contingent of 400 chased off a Ku Klux Klan rally, and repurposed it as a call for solidarity against Republican extremism. It resulted in almost $200,000 in donations in one quarter to a campaign based in a county routinely ranked as one of, if not the, poorest in North Carolina.

Graham, like everyone else in Robeson County, grew up as a Democrat, a trend that lasted well into his adult life. In his first general election, in 2010, he won by more than 33 points. By the time he ran for his sixth term in 2020, that margin had collapsed to five points, which actually made him the outstanding Democratic performer in the region. Barack Obama won Robeson twice, but in 2016 Trump eked out a victory with 50 percent. But in 2020, Trump romped, winning a shocking 59-40 victory over Joe Biden on the strength of a surge in Lumbee support. In fact, every statewide Republican carried the county as well. “I’m the only Democrat who won this county,” Graham told me.

How Democrats managed to alienate this once completely blue bloc, one of the most racially diverse counties in the entire country, became fodder for numerous national media pieces. Did the party alienate the culturally conservative Lumbee because of gun control? Was it the embrace of abortion?

“The first original sin for Democrats, and even though it’s not fair to put this on local folks, was NAFTA,” Emily Sharum, chair of the political science department at UNC Pembroke, told me. Robeson County, already reeling from the loss of tobacco, had come to rely economically on textiles and manufacturing, making shoes for Converse and shirts for Ralph Lauren. After NAFTA, none of that lasted long. “Unless you are really turning up to clean up the aftermath of that,” said Sharum, “it’s tough to survive.”

The Lumbee, who would represent the largest Native tribe east of the Mississippi if they had federal recognition, started defecting like an Ernest Hemingway character going broke: gradually, then all at once. Trump’s pledge to bring back manufacturing and renegotiate NAFTA piqued the community’s interest; his pledge to grant the Lumbee federal recognition, long sought for a tribe that has been unable to even set up a casino to bolster its economic condition, resonated. Joe Biden endorsed federal recognition as well, and actually, he did it first. But then came the decision that sealed it: Trump showed up.

Just two weeks before Election Day, in late October, Trump went to Lumberton for a rally, appealing to the Lumbee specifically on a policy promised equally by his opponent. Soon after, he was running up the score in Robeson. Only 30 percent white, Robeson represented the biggest increase in percentage and total votes of any county in the state. That result was evidence enough for the national Republican Party that with a little extra legwork, there were big results to be won among nonwhites by a party many Americans found patently racist. That thesis was verified in a lengthy Politico profile that sought to get to the bottom of the change.

Economic destitution wrought by trade policy and an absent Democratic Party offered an opening, but there was one other thing that the RNC would’ve noticed that made the region so promising that the Politico piece didn’t touch—accelerating racial tensions between the Black and Native populations. Months before Trump ever set foot in Robeson, the town was roiled by racial enmity.

The RNC community center model is the latest attempt by Republicans to court nonwhite voters, who have long eschewed the party.

In June 2020, a small Black Lives Matter protest took to the streets, beginning from the UNC Pembroke campus. Estimates put the march’s attendance at around 150 people, demonstrating, as thousands of American towns did, against police violence. The march didn’t get far before it was set upon by an armed and agitated Lumbee counterprotest, 300 strong, “probably more than that,” said the Rev. Tyrone Watson, president of the Robeson NAACP, who was among the demonstrators. “They had automatic rifles and handguns. It was something that you would see in the ’50s.” In a cruel inversion of the Battle of Hayes Pond, the protesters were pelted with bottles and rocks, menaced with knives and guns by Native counterprotesters beneath a large Trump flag.

The Republican Party’s active investment in the region has preyed upon that racial tension, Watson told me, in many cases exacerbating it in an appeal to flip Lumbee voters. Not long ago, both the Black and Lumbee populations were united in voting almost uniformly for Democrats. Now, they have become political opponents. It’s a uniquely Republican way of attracting one racial minority group, by pitting them against another.

Add to that the community center’s outreach and its promise of free events. As of 2019, median household income in Robeson was less than $35,000, with 28 percent of people below the poverty line. “This is a poverty-stricken county,” Watson said. “Anything free is gonna draw a lot of attention.”

When the RNC set up its community center, it picked a location just two blocks from the site of that June confrontation. “When you think of this county, the triracial makeup of it, a third being Native American, a third of them being Black, a third being white, this is just an absolute perfect place,” said Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, at the unveiling. There is not, it should be added, a Black American RNC community center in Robeson, though the Black community has faced similar economic challenges and political abandonment.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has done little to counter. “I just feel like they’ve given up on the Democratic voters of Robeson County. You don’t see that effort that you used to see,” added Watson. “They’re turning Robeson County over to the Republican Party.”

Graham told me he was troubled, too, about the tactics he’s been hearing to court Lumbee voters. “I have some real concerns about some of the things they may be doing,” he mentioned. “I don’t want to say they’re buying people’s votes … but they’re trying to entice people.” And beyond the free dinners, Sharum stressed how the RNC was building a shared sense of community, a meeting space in a district without many of them. “There’s also the social element,” she said. “The entire family can go. Not just the nuclear family, I mean grandma, grandpa, everyone.”

I ARRIVED AT THE PEMBROKE RNC COMMUNITY CENTER on a Friday morning, the start of what I’d understood would be a busy weekend before early voting began. The one-story taupe brick building, located on a very sleepy Main Street, was flanked by an empty shoe store on one side and a vacant lot with patchy grass on the other. The building had once been a drug rehab center; now, the round RNC Community Center logo adorned the facade. An American flag drooped to the building’s left.

Before I entered the facility, I called up Jarrod Lowery (no relation to Cale), a Republican member of the Lumbee Tribe (he’s the younger brother of the tribe’s chairman) and candidate for North Carolina House District 47, the seat currently held by Charles Graham. Lowery and Graham had squared off in 2018, and Graham had dispatched him easily, winning by 18 points.

Still, in the years since, Lowery had become the national face of the Lumbee’s Republican revolution, gleefully recounting his Republican coming-of-age story to Politico in 2020. Lowery’s campaign signs were ubiquitous on the drive over, more common even than the bootleg Trump 2024 flags.

Lowery and I agreed to meet up that afternoon in Lumberton, where the RNC Community Center had organized a voter registration door-knocking event. I’d shadow Lowery while he walked the neighborhood, getting a sense of the grassroots initiative and the strategy of the ground game. “I’ll be in campaign mode,” he warned me, “but we can talk.”

I walked into the center, which was sparsely furnished: a couple of easels sporting the RNC Community Center logo, stickers and flyers for GOP candidates, leaflets barking out the permanent collection of Republican messaging: “voter fraud,” supporting the troops, pro-policing. On the wall facing me hung a framed portrait of RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, with a quote proclaiming her commitment to the Native American community and its place in the Republican Party.

I asked at the desk for the rest of the weekend’s programming, which was written up for me on an index card. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday would feature door-knocking campaigns in Lumberton from 2 to 4 p.m., with a free pizza dinner back at the center Friday night. Saturday evening was a phone-banking event and cookout. Sunday evening had another unspecified event as well. I was pained to find out I’d just missed the Easter egg hunt put on by the center the Saturday prior.

At that point, in walked Cale Lowery, the 20-year-old director of the center, who, with his wispy beard, jeans, and T-shirt, looked even younger. As it was described to me, Lowery was one of three Lumbee organizers employed by the RNC to run the operation, all of them in their teens or twenties. Alina Blue, 19, marked the youngest of the three.

Cale and I had spoken on the phone before when he warned me off attendance, and he approached me haltingly when I introduced myself. I told him of my plan to shadow Jarrod, and we sat down opposite each other. I asked him simple questions about the center—how long it had been open (“since January”), if there was a certain profile of person they were trying to target for recruitment (“I wouldn’t say that”), how much autonomy they have in setting up the events (“the Easter egg hunt we did on our own, but there are some limits on what we can do”). He told me about the appeal of Trump, the frustration with Democrats over the lack of federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe. I scribbled down some impressions of the room. “I’m not supposed to be talking to press,” he averred, tapping his leg nervously and keeping his eyes on his phone.

“How did you get involved in Republican politics?” I asked. “I’m not allowed to divulge that,” he responded. At that point, he got up to take a phone call and left the room. A minute passed, and he returned. “That was my boss, I’m not allowed to be speaking to press, I’m gonna have to retract all of that,” he told me. “I don’t know if you’ve taken any pictures but please delete them.” And then: “I’m gonna have to ask you to give me over your notes.”

At this, of course, I balked. Lowery relented, but told me that an RNC representative would be reaching out to me. And then I was kindly asked to leave.

In just the first three months of 2022, 7,119 residents changed their party affiliation to become Republicans in North Carolina.

An hour later, I pulled into the parking lot of the Panera Bread in Lumberton, just a half-mile from Charles Graham’s office, expecting to meet Jarrod Lowery and the rest of the organizing team, which was off to register voters. I spotted three organizers from the center sitting in the corner of the restaurant, along with one volunteer. They spotted me. “We’re not allowed to speak with press,” said Abigail Blue (sister of Alina), who’d previously worked as the Robeson County Trump campaign coordinator during the past election cycle, before working in Georgia. “How did you know we were here?”

“I’m here to meet with Jarrod,” I said, as the other organizers hurried out of the restaurant’s side door. While I waited, I spoke with Curvis Thomas, pastor of the local Christian Faith Fellowship, who was sporting a Jarrod Lowery campaign T-shirt. He agreed to give me his phone number and speak about the door-knocking after the fact. “I bet you’re a Republican superfan,” he quipped, before following the trio into the parking lot. At that point, I got a text from Lowery saying he’d have to reschedule.

I retreated to my rental car; they loaded into an SUV. Before they pulled out, Thomas tapped on my window. I rolled it down. “Jarrod is on his way here to meet you,” he said, assuring me that I should stay put. I watched them drive off, getting the feeling that they were trying to duck me. Sure enough, ten minutes later, I got another text from Lowery saying he wasn’t coming at all.

When I spoke with Thomas later, he told me they’d simply been engaged in bread-and-butter political organizing, not the stuff of interesting copy. “I was out asking people if they’re registered, if we can get them to fill out a registration card.” When I asked him what they were telling voters at the doors, he was predictably tight-lipped: “I can’t speak on behalf of them.”

Later that evening, I went rifling through Facebook, to see if I could find anything else about where they’d been, or how they’d been hawking Republican politics. In a private post uploaded hours after they’d given me the slip, I saw Thomas, posing for a group photo alongside two of the organizers, all wearing the same outfits I’d seen them in, with Jarrod Lowery in the middle, flashing a fan of voter registration forms. “Within a week we registered more than 20 people! Today we did 150 doors, and we are going to have plenty of voter contact done over the weekend,” the post read. “Tonight at the RNC Community Center we are having a phone bank/pizza night!” At the pizza night, to which I was not invited, the attendees made 3,500 calls.

According to Lowery’s campaign, in just the first three months of 2022, 7,119 residents changed their party affiliation to become Republicans in North Carolina.

I texted and called Jarrod Lowery the next day; he never responded. I resolved to show up at the cookout anyway. The promised RNC representative never contacted me, so I figured I’d go make my case one more time.

I drove over to Main Street, where seven or eight cars were parked out front. Cale Lowery was manning a grill, roasting hotdogs over charcoal briquettes on the lawn next to the building, while attendees trickled inside. As I walked over to him, two people helped a grandmother out of a minivan and into the facility.

“It’s still a closed press event,” he told me straight away.

“You can’t talk to press, but I imagine your volunteers can, right?” I insisted. “No,” said Lowery. “It’s a closed event,” chimed in Abigail Blue. “You really don’t need to be talking to him,” she reminded Lowery.

Lowery turned his attention to the grill. “I’m more than glad to feed you, but unfortunately I can’t get you anybody to talk to.”

I walked back to my rental car, watching as the center slowly filled up. A volunteer in a coral-colored shirt stapled a cardboard sign to the telephone pole at the corner. “Free Hotdogs!” it read, with an arrow pointing to the community center. Then he walked another block, and stapled up another one. “FREE Hotdogs!”

BROADLY SPEAKING, THERE ARE TWO COMPONENTS to any political campaign: the air war, the barrage of paid media that fills up every TV, radio, and internet platform when Election Day grows near, and the ground game, the grassroots operations that pester people on phones and at front doors. To get some sense of how important and effective paid advertising is, consider this: The 2022 midterm cycle is currently forecast to bring a midterm record $8.9 billion in ad spend alone, a mind-blowing 130 percent increase over 2018. Advertising is expensive because it works.

Republicans have long had an indomitable advantage in the air war, for good reason. Conservatives have a finely tuned, infinitely funded propaganda machine, with basically zero limitations or scruples. Backed by corporations and billionaires, they blanket TV, radio, and all social media platforms, including places where Democrats don’t go. That doesn’t even account for the universe of conservative “news” sites, pop-up disinformation outlets, and more.

Democrats compete over the air, of course, but have historically earned their competitive advantage on the ground. The Obama campaign, famously, sported a massive grassroots apparatus, microtargeting millions of voters.

Democrats have strived to get better over the air; indeed, in 2020 more undisclosed outside money went toward electing Democrats than Republicans, which went straight into ad buys. But Republicans, too, have worked to close the gap on the ground. In the wake of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential loss, where the party was mocked for its pitiful ground game, the RNC has set out to create a grassroots juggernaut.

The challenge with the ground game is that it’s effective but inefficient. According to an often-cited study from political scientists Alan Gerber and Don Green, one face-to-face conversation can boost a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls by up to 20 percent, which can plausibly change the outcome of a close election. The problem, of course, is getting people to open their front doors and avail themselves of those conversations.

But the RNC’s community center model works year-round rather than just the month before the election, and doesn’t pester voters at home but lures them in. Given the astonishing costs of political advertising now, the cost per voter of renting a center and doling out free pizza is not as inefficient as it once seemed. It borrows, in many ways, from the sustained organizing model of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

“It’s really smart politics,” said Chuck Rocha, president of Solidarity Strategies, who ran the famously successful Latino outreach program for Sanders in 2020. “Because they have unlimited money and support … they can go in and put these community centers up with the facade that they care about the community. What they’re really trying to do is spend a bunch of money just to get three or four more percent of the Black or brown vote.”

One of the first RNC community centers, opened last August, is based in Laredo, a part of South Texas where Democratic support collapsed in 2020, an outcome often blamed on rampant misinformation. “People think because these folks have been nice enough to show up in the community, why would they be here to lie,” Rocha told me. “When, in fact, they’re misleading our community around issues that they stand against.” To my count, there are at least eight Hispanic community centers now in operation.

Democrats don’t have their own community center model, but it’s not like they’ve ceded minority grassroots outreach. The Democratic National Committee has launched a $25 million nationwide initiative aimed at boosting voter protection and education among communities of color, and plans to spend nearly $5 million on a new voter registration program, which prioritizes minority outreach. Both the DNC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have been on the ground earlier and more actively during this cycle than in recent years, Rocha told me. But in my conversations with the DNC, the emphasis often returned to ad buys.

For smaller racial groups like Native Americans, even the solitary center I visited could upset the delicate balance in swing states. For example, Arizona’s 450,000 Native Americans make up just over 6 percent of the state’s population. The Navajo Nation has around 67,000 eligible voters, six times the number Biden beat Trump by in the state. Wisconsin, another closely watched swing state, went for Biden by some 20,000 votes. There, the Native population is 145,000 strong. Native votes in both states went overwhelmingly for Democrats. If Republicans were to move into those communities, would those margins hold?

For both parties, now, minority communities present an existential quandary. Democrats can’t realistically afford to do any worse with nonwhite voters than Joe Biden did and win the presidency. And even with the protections of the Electoral College, Republicans must continue to grow nonwhite vote share to compete nationally. The kicker, of course, is this: With near-infinite resources, Republicans can afford to try almost anything.

I WANTED TO SEE IF ALL THE COMMUNITY CENTERS operated under the same veil of secrecy, so I headed over to Georgia, where there were two RNC community centers in operation: an Asian American center in the northern Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett County, and an African American one in Atlanta’s College Park neighborhood.

In Georgia, Republicans suffered narrow, startling losses in recent elections, resulting in Joe Biden taking the state and then Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock triumphing in special Senate races. Though buoyed by anti-Trump revulsion in the suburbs and alienated Republican turnout for the Senate races because of an allegedly stolen election, Georgia was an exemplar of Democratic ground game, thanks in part to Stacey Abrams’s turnout operation Fair Fight Action. Turnout shot up for Democrats across the state.

But the margins here were minuscule, and Georgia remains tightly contested. Joe Biden carried Georgia by not even 15,000 votes. Warnock is up for re-election in November, and Abrams herself has booked a rematch with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Even a small marginal overperformance by Republicans in unfriendly demographics could change the outcome.

First, I stopped by the Asian Pacific American Community Center in Gwinnett’s Berkeley Lake, a location so minimally popularized that it didn’t even turn up in a Google Maps search. Sandwiched between a flower shop and a vape store in a mini-mall, the community center was closed for the weekend when I arrived. On the door was a phone number for the lead organizer, Chunghee. When I called, she gave me the same spiel: She would have to refer me to an RNC comms person for any official inquiries. Just as before, that comms person never called.

Peering through the glass, I could see a few of the same trappings as Robeson County’s center. Another framed portrait of Ronna McDaniel, this time with a quote about the Asian American community having a home in the Republican Party; campaign literature; a handheld Korean flag.

With no one else to talk to, I went into Pipe Dreams, the vape shop, and asked the salesperson, Gregg, what he thought. He was not Asian himself, but sympathetic to the initiative—ex-military and “Republican as shit.” He wasn’t under the impression that they were making great inroads, but not for lack of trying. “Tuesday is their big day,” he told me. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be in town then.

The next day, I drove to the Black American Community Center in College Park. It was the same routine—referred to an RNC employee who never called me back. When I arrived, the center was also closed.

But the building’s landlord, a man who insisted I refer to him as Mr. David, was on hand. Clearly not briefed on the code of silence, Mr. David offered me a tour of the facility, taking me into its various offices, and its movie room. I crossed glances with that same framed portrait of Ronna McDaniel.

“Are they very active here?” I asked him. “They do so much,” he said. “They’re always doing something. Tea for the women, Easter service, movie screenings … they’re doing something every day.”

He passed me a flyer announcing a door-knocking campaign, beginning that Tuesday and taking place “every Tuesday following starting at 11:00.” The flyer declared that the event was “Open to All”—except, of course, journalists.

Black voters have proven to be the single most reliable and dedicated Democratic voting bloc. In 2020, Biden won Black voters by an 81-point margin, with Black women voting Democratic at a roughly 93 percent clip. This was clearly not a group that was going to break Republican. But in an election tight enough that every vote can be credibly said to count, chipping away at those margins even a little bit could prove consequential, and Black voters have been defecting by a few percentage points a year since Obama’s re-election.

“This is such a Democratic neighborhood, do you think they’re actually getting through to people out here?” I asked Mr. David.

“Oh yeah,” he said without hesitation. “They’re definitely getting through to people.”