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    Photos by Mickie Winters

    Sylvia Burns swipes her silver-blond hair from her face and peers down from horn-rimmed eyeglasses onto a list of registered Democrats she’s charged with calling. The 60-year-old is a familiar presence in Hillary Clinton’s Kentucky headquarters in the Highlands. A countdown on the wall shows there’s 34 days until Election Day. Using a campaign office flip phone, she dials. No answer. “If they don’t pick up in four rings, you hang up,” she explains. “In my greener days, I’d only total 40 or 45 calls. Others would have 100-plus.” Then, she learned. Four rings without a pick up? They’re not answering.

    Next number. A live one! “Hi! This is Sylvia from Hillary for America,” she begins, closing her eyes, straining to hear. In the cramped room lined with Hillary banners and volunteer sign-up sheets, a dozen voices intersect and overlap across four card tables. Who are you supporting? Oh, you’re just waking from a nap? Can I call you back? Would you like to volunteer? Burns smiles and nods as she writes a name down on a legal pad. The man wants to drive voters to the polls. “Well, we can’t lose you and we can’t lose this election,” Burns says.

    Despite moving to Louisville from Washington, D.C., in 2010, Burns has never been much of a political junkie. Until this election. But she does describe herself as a longtime fan of Hillary Clinton. Burns knows that Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, got her name from the Joni Mitchell song “Chelsea Morning.” She’s read all of Hillary Clinton’s books and once got tapped to warm the crowd for a Bill Clinton appearance in Owensboro. 

    As this election nears, Burns is phone-banking several days a week. (No surprise here: Many in eastern Kentucky don’t take too kindly to the calls.) She and other volunteers may also help canvas neighborhoods up in Ohio, a state that’s far more of a tossup than deeply red Kentucky. As for all the criticism leveled at Clinton, Burns just shakes her head. A “strong-minded woman in charge” makes people nervous, she says, adding, “Every time she’s knocked down, she gets tougher. That’s one of the things I admire. (She) may not be someone you want to have coffee with every morning or chitchat with about the kids. She’s cut and dry. She’s a lawyer.”

    A couple miles south on Bardstown Road, in a strip mall in Fern Creek — just past a church with a sign that reads “Jesus and this church are not politically correct” — stands the unofficial Donald Trump headquarters in Louisville. Unofficial because Jeff Klusmeier, an insurance salesman and longtime Republican activist, has spent $6,000 of his own money for the “Young Professionals for Trump” office that opened in August. The idea came “after a few shots of bourbon,” he says. “I thought: You know what would be cool? If we started a Trump office.”

    The friendly 47-year-old is compact and packs a mighty energy. (During a slow hour at the campaign office, I get a lively tutorial on a fail-proof way to grab television news airtime with something called the TIP CUP method — timeliness, impact, prominence, controversy, uniqueness, proximity.) When the phone rings, Klusmeier hops up. Mostly, calls come from people wanting Trump gear. One such call comes from the Indiana Republican Party in Floyd County. “They’re having a harvest homecoming and have no Trump stuff,” he says. Klusmeier, who also has a printing business, says printing and selling swag — signs, shirts, bumper stickers — helps cover the office’s utilities and rent.

    Klusmeier believes Trump can create jobs and reverse what he sees as a hyper-politically-correct grip on America. “If I offend you, I’m going to be punished? That’s totalitarianism. And what’s a microaggression?” he says.

     A middle-aged couple in matching white Nikes come in to buy two signs, $5 each. Klusmeier hands them his business card. 

    “You do commercial (insurance)?” the wife asks. 

    “Yeah, we do commercial,” Klusmeier replies. “We kill it.” 

    The couple shares with Klusmeier that they are former Democrats. “If (Trump) wins, it’s going to be in spite of all this press,” the wife says. 

    “They just beat him up,” her husband chimes in. 

    “The media does it so much it’s, like, losing its effect,” Klusmeier says. “He called her ‘Miss Piggy.’ So what?” 

    As they leave, Klusmeier smiles. He says what he likes about this gig is connecting with good people. After Election Day, Klusmeier will head south for a long Florida vacation. On election night, if Trump wins, he says he’ll get a mohawk and do wheelies in the campaign office on his motorcycle. If it goes the other way? “Probably just cry in my beer,” he says.

    This originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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