MOUNT PLEASANT -- On the campaign trail, mayoral candidate Joe Bustos and his wife, Kathy, are riding their battered bicycle-built-for-two in Mallard Lakes to the home of Cindy Thornton, the next person on their list of registered voters.
Bustos moves briskly to the front door. He introduces himself to Thornton with the pitch he has made more than 2,000 times in a door-to-door campaign on the bike. He asks Thornton to consider voting for him in the Nov. 3 election and hands her his campaign card. He encourages her to visit his Web site for information.
Thornton says the visit from Bustos, although brief, made a difference. She was undecided on who to vote for, but she appreciates the personal touch. "It means a lot when someone comes around and talks one-on-one with us," she says. "You get so much in the mail. It's almost like junk mail."
On this sunny late afternoon, Bustos knocks on the front doors of 24 houses in Mallard Lakes in about 40 minutes. In all, he figures he has visited 2,162 residences of registered voters. "Some days, we'll do over 100," Kathy Bustos says.
The bicycle-built-for-two isn't a campaign gimmick, he says. Rather, it's a practical way to get around to as many homes as possible. Sometimes, people ask about the bike, want to sit on it or have their picture taken with it. The couple bought the bike eight years ago for their 30th wedding anniversary. They carted the bike to Mallard Lakes in their SUV.
"This is 90 percent of it. This is the heart of what we're doing, going out and talking to voters," Bustos says. "We go rain or shine, hot or cold."
Visiting the homes of at least 3,000 registered voters is their goal. Political consultant Rod Shealy told Bustos he would win the election if he introduced himself to registered voters at between 3,000 and 4,000 homes, Bustos says. "We're going to hit 3,000 without a problem," he says.
Not everyone in Mallard Lakes is receptive to the Bustos campaign. Resident Fay Cameron tells him, "I'm sorry. I'm voting for Billy Swails." Bustos asks her to please take a look at his Web site. Afterward, Bustos says, "You know, that's the first time that's happened." His wife notes that's not so bad considering they had been to more than 2,000 homes.
At the home of George Williams, Bustos gets a mixed reception. "We're weighing our options. What is your political affiliation?" Williams asks.
"Republican," Bustos replies.
"You're one step closer," Williams says. He adds, "You know, you're in Santos' old stomping ground. He first lived in this subdivision." Bustos points Williams to his campaign Web site and asks for his support.
The best response Bustos has gotten is when someone tells him they already voted for him by absentee ballot. Sometimes, he gets invited in. "No one's been rude. No one's slammed a door in our face," he says.
"Because America begins at home" is his campaign slogan. Bustos says he is taking the one-on-one approach of knocking on doors to get to know people. "I think that the town is houses and people," he says. "It's not just a collection of buildings."
A key to a stronger America is fixing problems first in hometowns, he says. Then the state will come together, and the country. "It all starts at this level. That's why we felt that contact with as many voters as possible is important."
He says the approach has produced results because people have come by to see him at his house. And Bustos sees more hits on the campaign Web site at the end of the day after going door-to-door. He hopes that the personal touch will result in a better turnout at the polls.
Back on the bike, they pedal to the next house. "This is what we do all day," Kathy Bustos says, "... even when the weather's not good."
Reach Prentiss Findlay at email@example.com.
Address: 649 King St.Contact: 822-6363, firstname.lastname@example.org, votebustos.com.Family: Wife, Kathy; adult children, Kelly Ellsworth and Brian Bustos.Occupation: Retired Army lieutenant colonel; certified flight instructor; Southeastern Cruise and Tour owner.Education: Bachelor's degree, Columbia College; master's degree, Central Michigan University; Master of Science in administration, Army Command and General Staff College.Politics: Elected to Town Council in 2000; chairs Bids & Purchases Committee and sits on Annexation, Economic Development and Personnel committees; board member, Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority.