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Democrats woo activists in key Des Moines neighborhood
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Democrats woo activists in key Des Moines neighborhood

Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley plays guitar at a bar Friday, July 24, 2015, in the Beaverdale section of Des Moines, Iowa, a sought after Democratic neighborhood that actively supported President Barack Obama's re-election. (AP Photo/Catherine Lucey_n

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Four years ago, the Beaverdale neighborhood in Des Moines organized big for President Barack Obama’s re-election, building an uber-volunteer group skilled at phone-banking, door-knocking and boosting caucus and general election participation. The volunteers dubbed their leafy neighborhood Obamadale.

Now the 2016 Democratic presidential hopefuls are visiting this liberal stronghold, trying to rename it once more.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley hung out at a local bar Friday night and Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a house party Saturday afternoon. But they may have to keep wooing for a while. The neighbors are split among the candidates or undecided.

“I think Obamadale is still kind of an open target for candidates at this point,” said Brad Anderson, a resident who served as Obama’s state director in 2012.

Anderson said that in the last presidential election, the Obamadale group “over-performed by every metric that was set.” The group of about 20 core activists and dozens more participants got training from the campaign and put in long hours working the phones and going door to door. They turned out big numbers on caucus night and again in the November general election, when the incumbent Obama won the state. Their organizing methods were so successful that they were sent to other areas to boost participation.

“You get off work and clock in volunteering,” recalled founding member Kimberly Boggus, 36. “Phone banks Monday and Wednesday. Saturdays and Sundays were canvassing.”

Political engagement is a longtime tradition in the neighborhood. Located a short drive from downtown, the tidy streets are lined with small Tudor-style homes, known as Beaverdale Bricks. The shopping district features a candy shop and an independent bookstore. People mark the seasons with community gatherings and festivals.

It’s the kind of group any Democratic hopeful would like to scoop up. Clinton featured a local organizer in her announcement video and has picked up some key support here, including backing from the local Democratic state Sen. Janet Petersen. O’Malley has visited more than once, and played his guitar in a local tavern in the spring.

“It’s great to be in Beaverdale,” O’Malley told dozens packed into a local pub Friday night. “You guys have been terrific to me.”

He stood on a chair for a lengthy question-and-answer session that touched on raising the minimum wage and banking reform before accepting a guitar from an audience member and leading the enthusiastic crowd in song.

Clinton spoke to about 200 people in a Beaverdale backyard Saturday afternoon, calling the area “one of the most active, productive, effective areas in the whole state, not just in Polk County or Des Moines.”

She also told the crowd that she planned to release policies on climate change and renewable energy in Iowa on Sunday and Monday.

Back in the 2008 race, Obama had strong support in Beaverdale and spent July 4, 2007, here. Beaverdale Democrats said Clinton’s campaign was less active in the area during that campaign, when she placed third in the Iowa caucuses. But many said that she appears more committed to grassroots organizing here, as she is across the state.

“Her campaign this time around feels more like Obama ’08, more grassroots, bottom up,” said Petersen, who endorsed Obama in 2008.

For now, it looks like the Obamadale gang will not lock arms behind one candidate for the caucuses. Boggus is with O’Malley, “somebody that I relate to.”

But Sean Bagniewski, 31, who was featured in the Clinton video and hosted the Saturday house party, said “there’s quite a bit of support for Hillary right now.”

Bagniewski said he was thrilled to have the event at his home. “It takes a little bit longer to get their support over here, but when you get their support, they are in whole hog,” he said.

Rose Mary Pratt, 67, another member of the group, said she was still weighing her decision.

“I’ve had calls from all campaigns,” she said. “Because I’m an activist they want my commitment early.”

“I like all of them. Hillary’s my generation; I want to see a woman president. That’s meaningful to me. I think O’Malley is a new voice in the party and he’s quite articulate in his statements. I could go there. “

As for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, she said, “I’m an old liberal, so he says all the things I like to hear.”

Sanders has not done an event here, though Pratt said she saw him in the coffee shop several months ago and chatted with him. Sanders’ Iowa director, Pete D’Alessandro, said the campaign will organize in the neighborhood and Sanders probably will come for an event.

Whatever happens in the February caucuses, activists agree they’ll come together later on for the party nominee.

“We go our separate ways, we support the people that are more in mind with what we think,” said Ben Guise, 69. “We’re really close friends, all of us. We will have no trouble transitioning back.”

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This story has been corrected to show the last name of the state senator is Petersen, not Peterson.

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