Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

Report from the Ground: Pennsylvania

I had a great experience this weekend volunteering for the Obama campaign, going door-to-door, and doing the necessary muck work of the elections. I found the process invigorating, inspiring, but more importantly, highly encouraging from at least one aspect: organization. Much more on this below.

Yesterday, three friends and I drove from Manhattan to Bristol, PA, in Lower Bucks County. We arrived at the Obama headquarters to find a huge crowd already there, I’d estimate between 150-200 volunteers (many came on a bus organized by the Upper West Side office here in NYC). Turnout was incredible and the enthusiasm was palpable. However, I was impressed that the Obama office workers weren’t wasting our time with a pep rally, but immediately jumped into the nitty gritty of our task for the day: canvassing.

Each team of two was given a packet – that packet included a list of names and addresses, each with relevant info we were tasked with filling out (which candidate that person is supporting, level of committment, issues of importance, willingness to volunteer, not-at-home, moved, etc).

Additionally, the packet gave us directions on a clearly-printed google map, extra registration forms, volunteer forms, and absentee ballot registration forms, along with brochures to be distributed. More on this organization later.

We ended up in neighboring Croydon, PA. This area was most definitely a working class neighborhood, and strikingly un-diverse (very white), so we were prepared for some interesting remarks. Apparently the area is majority Democratic, but went overwhelmingly for Hillary in the primaries. Something we had to deal with.

Also, noticed more McCain yard signs than I’d ever seen before, as well as McCain bumper stickers. Not one Obama yard sign. This, combined with reading Kagro X’s diary yesterday, made me a bit worried.

As our day progressed and launched into the canvassing, we encountered what most canvassers do: most people aren’t home or don’t want to talk. I’d say about 35% of all our homes gave us a result we wanted: determining a preference.

We met about 7 people who were voting for McCain. They weren’t rude. They didn’t engage us in any negative talk, just politely told us they were voting for McCain. We thanked them and moved on. Note: the organizer at the office made it clear that our job was not to try to change minds, only persuade those on the fence a little bit, but mostly identify so that the office could refine its targeting efforts. Every house that voted for McCain wasn’t terrible news, because we could remove them from Obama’s file for get-out-the-vote effort. Why waste the campaign’s time and resources?

We met about 6-7 people who were truly undecided. We asked for the issue that mattered most to them, a couple replied the economy, but most just said, “Whatever.” We didn’t push it – we left the material and moved on. Our hope is seeing a friendly, smiling face left a good impression.

We met one very sweet older lady who said she was leaning towards Obama but heard he was in favor of partial-birth-abortion at 8 months (!?!). We responded that we weren’t sure that was accurate and I mentioned Obama’s efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies to begin with, but we took a note for the campaign to follow-up with her. It only hit me later that she was probably talking about that infamous “Born Alive” bill from the Illinois Legislature. I wasn’t well-versed enough in it, so probably best to leave it to a follow-up.

We met about 15-16 people total where were absolutely going to vote for Obama. The most gung-ho voters were always the union families. Union people were the most involved, engaged, and it wasn’t even a question for them. Met a couple really nice, chatty ladies, who were 100% behind Obama (including an ex-Republican voter) and the reason that pushed them over the edge? Sarah Palin. Anecdotally, it’s clear that Sarah Palin is motivating BOTH bases. A number of people who came out to volunteer at the office mentioned it was the Palin pick that pushed them into action. And these voters proved that point too.

Now, some good news bad news.

First, the bad news: we didn’t encounter any problems, but others encountered real racial prejudice. One pair of canvassers was told, “I’ll never vote for that n*gger.” Another pair was told, “I’m just not ready for Obama” (we know what they meant), and another was told by literally 5 different people that they wouldn’t vote for Obama because they knew he would end up assassinated. Oy!!

But the good news: we met a lot of, as the pundits would say, “hard-working white Americans” who were absolutely supporting Obama, and not one even mentioned or hinted that race would be an issue. That’s not true, one said, “Considering all he’s had to overcome and how far he has come, it makes me proud to be an American.”

But what inspired me most ended up being the Obama office: friendly, efficient, and highly organized. They took in a huge amount of volunteers and processed them quickly and got them on their way. At the end of the day we all turned in our tally sheets, were thanked profusely before heading home.

And I have a point of comparison: I did a lot of volunteer work for Kerry in 2004. I spent a week in Ohio as well as some days canvassing in PA. What a mess it was. Unprofessional office workers. Disorganized in the extreme. Yesterday in the small town of Bristol, PA, I saw an office that put the biggest Kerry Ohio offices to shame.

All in all I found the experience completely invigorating. When I left a day of volunteering for Kerry in 2004, I felt like, “man, I hope I made a difference, but I’m not sure if I did or if I trust the campaign to use that data well.” Completely different this time around. I left feeling, “I want to do that again as soon as possible.”

And despite the enormous turnout, there were many more packets laying around that were unused, so that means many more houses left untouched. And given all the “not at home” listings on most sheets, there’s an opportunity to do much much more.

But what we did do was identify some solid Obama supporters, identify some leaners and undecided, wipe some McCain voters off the record, and clean-up the file. Our efforts were necessary and helpful. And that’s why I wanted to go back and do more.

I can’t encourage you strongly enough, if you haven’t already (or even if you have), volunteer as soon as possible. The campaign needs you.



September 21, 2008 - Posted by | Battleground States


  1. Even though I was nervous about doing it, I also canvassed yesterday for Obama in Abq, NM. It was a great experience. I registered one voter, and had quite a few folks state they were supporting Obama. I only encountered one angry lady, but I was very polite to her. All in all, I am so glad I worked for the campaign, and I’ll be back next week. Also, the Campaign office is well run.

    Comment by Linda Rodgers | September 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. I am glad you went. That is just how the Obama team was in Iowa and Indiana, when I went during the Iowa.

    I was in Wisconsin, and I can tell you, I don’t think we will have a problem in the end. Economics are front and center in Wisconsin, with JOBS.

    You will run against some prejudice, most of it with older americans, but those young with families are open to Obama.

    In the end, I think Obama will win Pennsylvania.

    This election for voters is voting their economic interest. If they do not, then they deserve what will happen the next four years, NOTHING.

    Comment by icebergslim | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  3. So happy to hear that someone else had the same experience I did on Saturday. I canvassed for Obama in Orlando and was totally overwhelmed by the positive responses. Most folks I taled to are just plain worried about the economy and feel they can’t vote for a Republican again. I too, found that the SEIU organization supporting Obama was friendly, efficient and grateful for my effort. I will be going out again this coming weekend to see if I can be helpful again. Best experience of my life and I am 64 years young.

    Comment by Ken | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  4. Just wanted to chime in to give you appreciation for what you’re doing. Keep it up, we’ll need all the help we can get.

    Comment by Franklin | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  5. I went to “Camp Obama” and became part of a phone banking/ canvassing team. My specific job is data management for my team. The Obama organization is very impressive and well organized. The use of technology and the internet to manage the teams is amazing. It assures the data is being used. My small team alone is making 1200-1500 calls per week and running canvassing tears to Nevada o weekends as well as finding more volunteers. It’s hard to grasp how amazing it is unless you are a part of it.

    Comment by sherry | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  6. I have been working on Senator Obama’s campaign in Pittsburgh, PA for months. We have really terrific field organizers and they do an exceptional job. I’m proud to be part of the team.

    Went canvassing on Saturday in Pittsburgh as well and we found individuals to be really supportive. Out of all the doors we knocked on, only one individual said he was truly supporting McCain. We know there’s still much work to be done.

    Comment by Jane | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  7. Wish I can be a part of the Obama team. Received an invite, but I am a part of the few that can’t travel to neighboring “battle ground” cities because money isn’t right for me these days. Can’t go to “small towns” either because I don’t think I wouldn’t be welcomed, but it’s a terrific thing you guys are doing and it will pay off, in the end, for Obama. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by trellskig | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  8. Oops, I meant “I don’t think I would be welcomed” sorry.

    Comment by trellskig | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  9. My husband and I, suburban Phila. residents, went to a supermarket parking lot in an African American section of Philadelphia Sunday afternoon before the Eagles/Phillies games and worked on voter registration for an hour. We registered 4 new voters. Everyone else was registered and very enthusiastic.

    Comment by Susan Brown | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  10. If you can’t go somewhere you can go to the BO website and make calls to a battleground state from home.

    Comment by sherry | September 22, 2008 | Reply

  11. […] Report from the Ground: Pennsylvania I had a great experience this weekend volunteering for the Obama campaign, going door-to-door, and doing the necessary […] […]

    Pingback by Top Posts « | September 23, 2008 | Reply

  12. I really feel that everyone has to do something. There are plenty of choices if you don’t like to canvass (though that is by far the most powerful), but if you’re shy, you can just enter data. There are too many close races for us to leave it to chance. You can go on to the Obama website and participate in Neighbor to Neighbor. I have been canvassing since July, and when I can’t make it to the campaign office on the weekend, I do my neighborhood during the week. I have enjoyed getting to know my neighbors, and it’s much easier to sing out, “I’m one of your neighbors!” when knocking on a door.
    There are plenty of forces against us, and we all must put aside our scruples or shyness to do what we can. Otherwise we are at fault if he loses. And we can do this…yest we can.

    Comment by JMackin | September 23, 2008 | Reply

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