It was the grassroots who got him over the top
“And phones down!”
It’s 6.30pm and Andrew, the point man for Obama for America in Ballston, is instructing us to hang up our telephones. And, with precision timing, it’s the end of the 2012 presidential election campaign for our field office in the battleground state of Virginia.
Election Day, ominously known as E Day, is coming to a close. We’ve been calling known Democrats in Arlington County since 9am this morning but, with polling stations closing in 30 minutes, there’s little more to do but wait.
Around me more than 25 campaign staff, fellows and volunteers are cheering, shaking hands and warmly embracing. We are taking this moment to quietly revel in what we’ve achieved together so far today and in the months leading up to it before early returns start to arrive. Every phone call, every door knock has brought us here.
Elsewhere in Arlington County other canvassers will continue ferrying voters from train stations to their polling place for another 15 minutes. Resolute and unwavering, some in the office begin calling voters in swing states where ballots can still be cast, using a database of names and phone numbers shared on barackobama.com.
This is the famed ‘ground game’ of President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States in a landslide victory due, in part, to the largest grassroots organisation in the history of American politics. And he relied heavily on it again for electoral success a second time around on Tuesday night.
The Ballston campaign field office was one of 60 such command posts in Virginia. Near Andrew, the point man for the campaign, official ‘Virginia for Obama’ and ‘Forward’ signs were tacked lopsidedly to the walls. Behind me, OFA literature, maps of turfs and precincts in Arlington County, and canvassing packs were sorted into pigeonholes next to a box of work phones, laptops and their tangled chargers.
Battleground state turfs such as Ballston were crucial in the electoral college process that returned the President to the White House for a second term with 303 electoral votes and 50.4 per cent of the popular vote. The Citizens United case and campaign finance reforms undoubtedly changed the face of this election, but it was hard won by the canvassers who represented the parties and candidates on the ground.
During the final four days before E Day, hundreds of loyal Democrats and tireless Obama supporters used the Ballston office as a staging location to rally their neighbours to ask for their vote. Many volunteered to be designated drivers for voters who couldn’t get to their nearest polling station. One driver delivered a deaf and mute homeless man to the polls.
Others volunteered as ‘comfort captains’, responsible for supplying canvassers and voters waiting in long queues with necessary provisions such as water, muesli bars, bagels and donuts. It’s thanks to this collective effort that the President won Virginia with 50.8 per cent of the vote and former Governor Tim Kaine was elected to the US Senate with 52.4 per cent.
The field office, however, has been fully operational since August. In the intervening months, canvassers such as myself spent their evenings from 5-9pm during the week here making calls on a campaign phone or on the VoteBuilder database’s automatic dialler system.
The Ballston office also hosted phone bank parties in the homes of campaign staff or fellows. The parties presented an opportunity to boost morale amongst the troops, make lots of calls and drink just a little less beer and/or wine.
On the weekends and the closing days of the campaign, armed with a list of names and addresses, a map with a suggested route, a script and campaign literature, canvassers knocked on doors in Ballston and its surrounding neighbourhoods to mobilise voters person-to-person, face-to-face.
From child care centres to nursing homes, the tree-lined suburbs around Ballston are a microcosm of middle America. I trampled through fallen autumn foliage to knock on the doors of sprawling two-storey brick houses.
A couple of blocks away where the roads are narrower and the gardens aren’t as well kept, I also knocked on doors in less welcoming public housing apartment complexes. It was in one of those complexes where I met a disenfranchised elderly woman who wasn’t going to vote because she thought she didn’t have the correct forms of identification.
Despite several rebuffs and rebukes, I relished door-knocking. You had the indulgence of spending time with voters, particularly those with Obama-Biden yard signs displayed proudly on their front lawns. Those people are the Democratic Party and, as different as they may seem, they share the same, unifying belief – as put by writer and satirist P.J. O’Rourke – that good ‘government will make you smarter, taller, richer’.
I told them President Obama embodies the American dream. He wasn’t born into wealth, but he was born in the US where he could create a wealth of opportunity. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from so, when looking forward to the future, he has a vision for this country where others can do the same. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve left my family, friends and all that’s familiar to relocate to these United States of America.
I told them, even though I’m not an American citizen, I had a vested interest in the outcome of this election. I need America to recover from its economic recession. I need America to invest in clean energy. I need America to end the war in Afghanistan. And I told them I entrust the President with those tasks because his hands are steady and his heart is full.
“Ok,” I hear Andrew say, derailing my train of thought. “We can clean up tomorrow. Let’s get a drink and watch this country re-elect its President!”
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