- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 21, 2004

Chris Ambrose and Cathy Sundwall have never met, and that’s probably a good thing.

Mr. Ambrose is a lifelong Democrat. Mrs. Sundwall is a loyal Republican. Both are working overtime these days, but on opposite sides of the political fence.

They both are taking time off from their regular work — Mr. Ambrose is a Fairfax technology consultant; Mrs. Sundwall is a Silver Spring homemaker — to ensure that their party’s nominee wins Nov. 2.

“Campaign volunteers are indispensable. This work couldn’t be done without them,” says Sylvia Darrow, one of the organizers of President Bush’s re-election campaign in Montgomery County.

A volunteer’s job description changes from day to day.

Sometimes it means canvassing a neighborhood, knocking on doors, identifying likely voters and trying to persuade the undecided ones to cast their ballot for your candidate.

Sometimes it means making telephone calls, stuffing envelopes or passing out bumper stickers at a county fair.

And sometimes it means just being a warm body in a crowd.

That was Mr. Ambrose’s role one evening this week when he went to McLean to see retired Gen. Wesley Clark — one of Sen. John Kerry’s rivals during the Democratic primaries — endorse James Socas, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Frank R. Wolf in Virginia’s 10th District.

The event is held in the yard of a home off Dolly Madison Boulevard, which was lined with Bush-Cheney campaign signs.

Mr. Ambrose arrives late. He has spent the afternoon standing alongside Interstate 95 in Springfield holding up a campaign sign or “doing visibility” in campaign parlance. It took longer than expected.

He enters the big tent that shields guests from the stubborn rainfall, a vision of patriotism in blue jeans, white sneakers and a red shirt with a row of four gold stars — a tribute to Gen. Clark — pinned to one collar.

Mr. Ambrose goes about working the room. He sips a glass of red wine, hovers over the vegetable table and catches up with old friends from his days working on Gen. Clark’s primary campaign.

“Clark’s leadership skills during the Kosovo conflict were really impressive. Kerry was my second choice,” he says.

In 1976, while attending high school in New Jersey, Mr. Ambrose volunteered for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign and even got to ride around his neighborhood in a sound truck, urging his neighbors to vote for the Georgia Democrat.

Mr. Ambrose moved to the Washington area in the 1980s, when he took an information-technology job for the federal government.

It hasn’t been easy being a Democrat in Virginia, a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

“If you would have asked me a year ago if the Democratic nominee would have stood a chance in Virginia, I would have told you you were crazy. Now I can say I believe Kerry has a very, very good chance,” Mr. Ambrose says.

Shortly after 8 p.m., Mr. Socas introduces Gen. Clark.

Mr. Ambrose doesn’t disappoint, cheering and clapping loudly. After the speech, he waits for more than 20 minutes to shake Gen. Clark’s hand.

“I’m so optimistic. Not just for this county, but for the country,” Mr. Ambrose says later.

That same sense of optimism drives Mrs. Sundwall, who spent an evening this week training Republican precinct workers in Legislative District 14, which encompasses a wide swath of Montgomery County.

Mrs. Sundwall arrives at the public library in Olney about 6:30 p.m. and sets up a table in the backroom with pens, name tags and copies of the evening’s agenda.

She separates 20 chairs stacked atop each other and arranges them theater style. A sign that hangs on the chalkboard in the front of the room: “Leave the Furniture in this room EXACTLY as you found it.”

People begin filing into the room. About 7 p.m., one of Mrs. Sundwall’s fellow volunteers introduces the evening’s guest speaker, who talks about what poll workers should expect on Election Day.

Mrs. Sundwall moved from Utah to the Washington area in the early 1980s when her husband took a job working for Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican. She was a Democrat until Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings in 1991.

“The Democrats really beat up on him. I could talk to you about that for an hour. It really inflamed me,” she says.

Mrs. Sundwall is the flip side of Mr. Ambrose. She knows the alienation that comes with being part of the conservative minority in liberal Montgomery County.

“It’s stimulating. I believe in the Republican Party, and I like to talk about it,” she says.

After the speaker’s presentation, he opens the floor to questions. The poll workers have plenty.

Am I permitted to leave my table unattended at the polling place?

May I decorate my table with campaign memorabilia?

How can I get a Bush-Cheney yard sign?

Later, Mrs. Sundwall speaks to the crowd, urging them to help line up other precinct workers for the polls.

After the meeting ends about 8:30 p.m., Mrs. Sundwall will pack up her materials and head for home. Her work won’t be done, though, until Election Day.

“I do this for my grandchildren. The world they grow up in is being determined right now,” she says.

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