Never have I been more grateful for the wealth of information I’ve learned from DKos than I was Saturday canvassing in a Republican-dominated part of Virginia. Folks there are being bombarded with McCain-Palin propaganda but many are willing (even eager) to participate in informed discussion. So thanks to the DKos community for making it so easy and enjoyable to stay informed about all the issues that came up: Ayers, ACORN, Veterans issues, Right to Life (especially Matthew25).
Moral: Get involved (or stay involved) in the grassroots efforts and use DKos to arm yourself with information
The Obama campaign uses Maryland as an "export state", targeting efforts to adjoining critical battleground states, especially Virginia. Canvassing for Obama has been interesting and challenging throughout the year, but never more so than in Virginia. It has VERY diverse demographics in almost every parameter: racial, economic, and religious. So every neighborhood is different. My day yesterday in Stafford VA highlights some of the challenges and opportunities in an affluent neighborhood in a relatively rural military-affiliated community. Of the perhaps 30 days I’ve spent canvassing this year, none have involved more earnest discussion than yesterday. (I've diaried some of these experiences in SC, DE, PA, VA.)
As you know, Virginia is a critical battleground state that has evolved over the last 1-2 months from leaning pro-McCain towards leaning pro-Obama. The lead has only opened over the last several weeks as shown in this graph from RealClearPolitics.
This trend reflects in part the national trends towards Obama. But more than that, it reflects an intensive effort by Obama campaign and volunteers. The Obama campaign is advertising heavily in Virgina and has operating out of 68 offices in Virginia (of which 19 are combined campaign offices with other democratic candidates). The campaign is continuing to open additional offices including the one out of which we canvassed that is not even on list yet (so the actual numbers is higher than 68).
I was surprised and delighted that more than half of those people were first time volunteers, reflecting the fact that the amazing Obama volunteer effort is continuing to expand. This reflects in part the fact that there are several great local volunteer organizations in our area that are working together with the Obama campaign to mobilize volunteers to "export", especially "DC for Obama" and "Montgomery County for Obama". Yesterday’s effort targeting Stafford VA was organized by "DC for Obama" and had about 15 volunteers targeted there (in addition to hundreds targeted elsewhere).
Stafford VA is part of a transitional zone between "red" conservative old-school Virginia to the south and west and "blue" northern. It is strongly shaped by proximity to The Marine Corps Base Quantico located north of the community. Historically it has voted about 60-65% Republican. The newly minted Obama office at 2069 Jefferson Davis Highway, Stafford VA is bare-bones, but it’s got a huge Obama-Biden sign highlighting Obama’s commitment to improved schools.
My turf was an upper middle class neighborhood, with strong representation of military families. Our canvassing was for "Voter ID", a major canvassing objective in Virginia for the following reason. Virginia is a state in which voters do not declare party preference when they register to vote. Therefore, the Obama campaign can infer Dem vs Repub only from a voter’s choice of ballot in the primaries,. For the many voters who don’t vote in primaries, the party affiliation is unknown. So a major effort in preparation for Get Out the Vote (GOTV) is to determine presidential preferences of those many voters.
In knocking on 72 doors, I found an unusually large number of folks home (~35 personal contacts) and talked to perhaps 15 folks in the neighborhood that weren’t on my list (which I choose to do because it has often been quite productive, but is not part of the "script"). The thing that impressed me most was NOT that there were lots of McCain supporters, but rather that lots of people were undecided and eager to talk to an informed canvasser. So I had earnest and useful conversations with perhaps 10 undecided voters. Below are several examples, each of which tapped into information whose details I had learned best from DKos.
One discussion was with a middle-aged guy doing yard work along my route. I was a bit reluctant to distract him since he seemed pretty engaged. But after a few exchanges which convinced him I was pretty informed, he set aside his tasks for a few minutes to talk. The "Ayers smear", claiming that Obama "pals around with terrorists", is getting quite a bit of play here in Virginia. It’s not that the "earnest" voters are fully convinced it’s true. Rather it’s that they don’t know enough and it raises doubts. (I heard a McCain radio ad on the radio on the way back from canvassing, which helped put in perspective how misleading they are). So I explained the key fact (purposely omitted in the McCain ads) that Obama knew Ayers only AFTER he became a distinguished citizen. Some of the key facts I used are ones that I learned on DKos, including the fact that Ayers was Chicago citizen of the year in 1997, which has been mentioned numerous times including, for example, one by Grassroots Mom. Our discussion also touched on other topics (ACORN, transition planning, etc). At the end of 6-8 minutes he thanked me earnestly for taking the time to talk and was clearly considering supporting Obama.
One of the most interesting conversations was with a thoughtful mother of a 4 month old. She stepped out to the doorstep to talk, so as not to disturb her infant. She was pro-life and intending to vote for McCain, but not in a knee-jerk way. I talked about ProLife voters who are supporting Obama and was delighted to be able to point her to www.Matthew25.org, which I learned about from DKos. What a great outreach effort that is. I told her about the Prolife perspective there and hope she follows the link there to http://www.prolifeproobama.com/ She listened thoughtfully and I saw an openness that often is lacking. Clearly this conversation opened a new line of thought for her. She thanked me warmly.
Finally, ACORN issues (the claims that this voter registration group is perpetrating widespread fraud) came up, even with a 30ish pretty strong Obama supporter . DKos has had great diaries on this such as one from TocqueDeville. It was helpful to be able to tell her that: 1) generally ACORN has a good reputation; 2) that ACORN is required to submit ALL voter registration applications even ones they flag as questionable ones; 3) the claims of fraud often relate to partisan election boards ignoring the red flags provided by ACORN; and 4) the cases of real violations are rare and due to a few bad actors not the organization
Towards the end of the day, I had a few leftover stray houses that are a bit out of the way. I was so tired, I considered omitting them. But I was glad I didn’t. My last contact was a ~ 40 year old guy working for the military. He is one of the unlucky folks whose recently purchase home is now worth less than his mortgage. Like some others in this affluent neighborhood, he’s at risk for foreclosure
Of course we talked about economic plans. He was leaning toward McCain, thinking that as a Republican, McCain would have a better economic plan. So we talked lots about how McCain admits he does not really understand the economy and how his key economic advisor is Phil Gramm whose policy of deregulation and shady dealings have contributed to this mess. He was eager for this kind of information. I went back to the car to give him the Obama literature designed for Military families. Towards the end, he expressed frustration that no one from the McCain campaign had come by to talk with him and said "if they don’t come by to talk with me, I am going to vote for Obama". Wow. Talk about a testimonial to personal contact.
I know that yards signs aren’t a key element in the Obama campaign and they shouldn’t be. But there is a clear emotional satisfaction in seeing those signs. So along with buttons and bumper stickers which I buy to give out, I’ve also bought some signs. When I arrived in that neighborhood, there were 2-3 McCain signs and no Obama signs. I offered them to some of the strong Obama supporters at strategic locations in this neighborhood. Interestingly, 3 or 4 voters declined to feature Obama signs in their yard, a difference from my past experience probably reflecting the strong Republican leanings here. But two families were delighted to have the signs strategically displayed. Those yard signs added to my satisfaction as I left the neighborhood.
In short, it’s an important time to be out talking with traditionally Republican leaning voters. Many are listening and the facts are on our side, bounteously diaried here at DKos