Working for Obama in North Carolina and Ohio

A dear friend packed up her belongings, left her home and husband in Portland, OR to go help the Obama campaign in North Carolina a few weeks back.  I thought offering her letter, sent to friends, to others might brighten the light of possibility, next time the call is sounded.  And see two more following Carol’s.

Thank you for your notes and encouragement throughout my weeks in North Carolina… I was too exhausted to answer coherently. Three weeks was not long, but I did jump in with both feet for 15-16 hours per day 7 days a week.

The Obama campaign continued to have great groundwork, and a terrific team, almost entirely volunteers. I have been impressed working with each Obama campaign, at the knowledge, passion, and people skills of the young men and women in leadership roles.  This is clearly what made the difference in Ohio and Florida among other states.  My experience with MoveOn in 2004 was similar too.  Bright, smart, skilled young people working to change things.

Chapel Hill was a good sized place for someone like me to land, I was able to become part of the team right away.  The house where I was staying became the North Chapel Hill staging location… the whole downstairs became an office. Data for that staging location was downloaded, printed and sorted there about 7 am every morning. Dozens of people and teams came and went all day.  The data entry team arrived between 8 and 9 pm and worked until 10 or so entering the updates from hard copies returned by canvassers and the phone bankers (those who had used hard copies instead of the computer programs).  Data from the Board of Elections was also used to update our lists each night during early voting.

Democrats with an inconsistent voting record were target population when I arrived. Their vote would likely be in the right place.  The goal was to ask them if they supported Obama, then get them to the polls if they did. Along with great teams of volunteers on the ground the Obama campaign had teams of people constantly analyzing and refining the data that was gathered, and returning new data determining the best focus for the ground teams each day.  It wasn’t perfect in Chapel Hill, but it was focused.   North Carolina has three weeks of Early Voting which happened while I was there, one can register and vote at the same time during that period.  So we also worked at getting new voters to the polls.

I was given a car after the first week, and asked to work at all three Chapel Hill staging locations to see how different teams handled things.  The last week I was asked to open a fourth staging location with a couple of other people – that was fun.  I did a lot of computer sign making for the various offices, plenty of mundane work, but mostly I was training teams of canvassers or teams of phone bankers or both, including organizing the data they would use. When there was a lull we would make calls to recruit volunteers or to turn out voters using the various tiered computer lists or programs refined in the same way as the canvasser data.  I did whatever needed to be done at the time. We had some fun events as well, a church barbecue followed by a march to the polls, a gathering at a taqueria and a walk to the polls.

We didn’t turn North Carolina around and that was disappointing. The numbers didn’t look good from the time I went there, but we all focused on what we were doing, tried to beat Nate Silver’s forecast, and hoped for the best. In 2008 Obama won by 5 votes per precinct and the possibility of matching that kept us optimistic.  In the end we all felt that what we did spread beyond the state of North Carolina, helped the overall popular vote, and kept part of the Romney team working in NC instead of heading to Ohio.  We were thrilled that Obama did win decisively!

As with any project of this type, I made dozens of friends and had many amazing experiences and some fun stories to tell.  The first day I worked at a new location was to fill in for a young woman who was presenting a case to the Supreme Court!  She was a very impressive young woman, seven months pregnant, she was back working at the staging location in two days.  A student from Portland Oregon arrived just after I did as a Vote Corps volunteer, she worked with an entirely different set of people who focused on UNC and Duke students.  The person who traveled the farthest was a delightful 22 year old man from Frankfurt Germany, who felt that the outcome of the presidential elections in the US directly affected Europe and his future so he used an 82 day visa to work for the Obama campaign in Chapel Hill. He wrote a lovely essay about this, if he sends me a copy I will forward it on to you.  He worked 18 +/- hours a day and was part of the core staff of the main downtown office.

So these are some of my observations and experiences… sorry that I took almost no photos.

Thanks again for your thoughts, emails, texts, and phone calls.


A couple of thoughts about the election:I’m from Boise, Idaho but my wife and I relocated to Ohio to volunteer for President Obama’s campaign for the four weeks before the election.I admire Nate Silver for his election model and its forecasts; they are one of the few things I read about politics while we were on duty and they gave me a lot of hope during those dark days after the first debate and while the skewed Gallup polls were coming out. But I want to add that there was a huge army of people who tried to make sure that the polls that Nate used turned into actual votes.For the last four days of the election, we helped manage a staging location for GOTV in one ward of a city in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. [read all]

And this elicited another letter from a host to such volunteers:

This year we had at one time four women sharing our two guest rooms. One told her astonished husband she absolutely had to go to Ohio – this being the Thursday before the last weekend – and she lived in Seattle. She caught a plane to Detroit the next day, rented a car and arrived unannounced at headquarters. They placed her with us during which time she walked the streets to canvass in downtown Toledo, rising early and working deep into the evening, grabbing a bite at headquarters and collapsing in our bedroom after 10:00. Another woman came from the Jersey shore and once she found her house was OK put her shoulder to the wheel as well in Toledo doing anything that was needed including the demanding work walking the neighborhoods to get out the vote. [read all]

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