I arrived early at Martinsburg's Campaign for Change office. I'd been busy doing drop lit and strictly focused on local races for the best part of this week and had missed the latest West Virginia poll.
I admit it was a kick in the gut. After a strong sense of feeling like the race was tightening here - Barack Obama's national campaign chairman had just said there was a "razor's" difference between the two candidates in their polls, to see a poll showing Obama 12 points down was tough. Especially after going by 320 houses (I should keep count) the day before. We've hit that stage here at the campaign where those of us who have been doing it week after week and many (not me) day after day for months are bone weary. Reading that poll was a gut check moment. I'd done my best, I could go home and rest and spend a beautiful autumnal day raking leaves and watching football - something I haven't done this year. I looked at the poll's internals. There it was inside. On the exit polling of the early voting Obama 50, McCain 49. In West Virginia.
And then I knew. No matter what happens come election day, today we were winning. No matter what comes election day, we had done our part. This state was supposed to be McCain's and he had put just one person here. And the hard-working, incredibly dedicated staff and volunteers of the West Virginia Campaign for Change had pushed and prodded and fought and made the poll numbers so tight that McCain and the Republican National Committee had to scramble and pour resources into this state to hold on to it.
Those are resources that McCain doesn't have to send to Virginia or Pennsylvania or Ohio or North Carolina or Georgia or Arizona. We had done it with no visits from Barack Obama. We had one visit from Joe Biden and one today from Bill Clinton. If we had received the amount of attention from Obama that Virginia or North Carolina or Pennsylvania had received, I know he would be ahead here too because no one can promote a candidate as well as the candidate. But we have just 5 electoral votes so we didn't get the visits and I understand that.
Sometimes I've quipped this was the Campaign on Pocket Change instead of the Campaign for Change because we had our people selling buttons and bumperstickers and yard signs (or for free for 30 minutes of phonebanking) so that they could buy more buttons and bumperstickers and yard signs.
But back to today. I got up and walked to the door. More people had come in. People were talking excitedly. There was energy. "Come on, let's go talk outside. We can do a sign wave and talk."
So we did. Mike, a standup comedian in his day job, fired us up the way he does so that our cheers for Obama and Anne Barth our Congressional candidate echoed off the downtown buildings. Across the street at the Shelley Moore Capito HQ it was empty and silent.
Then Alice Germond, the DNC Secretary who lives in Harpers Ferry spoke to us.
"I'm so proud of the campaign Barack Obama has run," Germond said.
"Obama has run an honorable and unifying campaign," she said. "I hope all of our candidates will start running those kinds of campaigns...not like Karl Rove's that seek to divide and destroy our democracy."
Then our people headed out. My regular canvassing partner of late, Ken "Not Carnacki" Collinson took Alice Germond with us. Alice, a lovely lady in every way, actually fit in well with us even though she lives in neighboring Jefferson County and those of us in Berkeley County are a different breed.
We'd finished a block when our staff PR person said someone from the New Republic wanted to tag along. (I can't remember his name, though I should since he had come out in 2004 and knew Martinsburg well from following the Project Next group.)
It couldn't have been better if we had staged it. (I wish we were organized to do something like that.) Alice stopped a couple walking to talk to them about early voting (see how she fits in with us, we talk to everyone and not just those on our sheets) and they were an older, white Republican couple. But they were on their way then to early vote for Obama.
I went into an African American barbershop to make sure everyone there had early voted. Most had - straight ticket voters too - and left some lit for people coming in later. I had a good conversation with them and told them the same thing I wrote earlier about the poll, that no matter what happens on Tuesday, today we were winning and that we had already done our part by making McCain spend resources here to win the state. "Every vote counts in the popular vote too and that will determine Obama's mandate," I said. That got several nods.
We were doing primarily a targeted canvass today - primarily because there were some streets we hadn't finished doing our lit drop for the Berkeley County Democratic Association so on those streets we hit every house with lit as well as those on our walk list where we knocked.
As we walked down Burke Street, an attractive, young white couple walked toward Kenny and I. He offered them a flier. They had already received one. They were on their way to early vote because of it and they were voting a straight Democratic ticket.
You know, sometimes when you're on your fourth hour of nonstop up and down streets, up the sidewalk and up the porch stairs to the door, back down and up the street and up the next set of stairs and back down you sometimes wonder if it's worth it.
I don't know how many other young couples like that one we got out. But we got them out.
All this week doing lit drops hitting every house in three different neighborhoods it's been strong Obama. I've had three encounters with McCain voters, including one man in camo who had his bow and quiver in hands.
"Any luck?" I asked as I approached with my door hangar on Thursday.
"No," he said.
"I'd like to give you some information about our Democratic team of candidates."
"Obama's a Muslim," he snarled.
"No, my friend, (I think that went over his head) he's not. He's a Christian and to say otherwise is bearing false witness," I said. It's not the first time I've disagreed with an armed man before and quite frankly anyone who couldn't get a deer in this county wasn't someone I was too worried about being able to shoot me.
"He's a Muslim," he said louder as if that would make it true. "He prays to Allah."
I could have stayed and argued that it doesn't matter, but when canvassing the goal is to not argue with people but to visit as many houses as possible so I waved and said, "You're wrong, my friend" and went on.
OK, back to today. So it's been a good week, but house after house in poor neighborhood and on to where it was better Obama after Obama. Drake, the 10 year old son of our volunteer coordinator, was keeping our walk list. "Hey Alice," I shouted across the street. "I've had all 1s and 2s and no 5s."
She didn't say, "Game on," but she talked to a couple of undecideds who didn't like Obama because he's pro-choice. She was sure she had persuaded them for Obama after she finished.
The reporter left and we did several more blocks and Alice had to leave. Kenny, Drake and I continued until we ran out of literature and called for Tyler to bring us out some. I was tired and hungry so we went in to eat (Robin, one of our regular volunteers, made a delicious pumpkin curry soup in the crockpot, thank you Robin).
As we headed out the door (Drake, despite his cherubic face, is a harsh task master), one of my West Virginia Blue diarists and commenters, JBdem4usa, also one of our regular volunteers in M'burg, said he thought our package had arrived.
Earlier this week, the campaign manager of our Bush Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (her HQ is across the street) accosted one (possibly more by some tellings) of our volunteers, "Are you Carnacki?"
That prompted some fun comments and ReliableSourceWV had "I am Carnacki" buttons made. So now a lot of people are Carnacki.
I put up a quick thank you post and we headed back out. At one house, the man hollered for me to come in (Note: never go in homes even if invited when canvassing.) So I went in and it was an older African American gentleman. He'd already voted. He said he'd seen our volunteers all over town. "I really like how you guys roll," he said. I thanked him and told him to join us at HQ on election night. He said he might.
One of the last houses I did today had an older man in front painting it. He was a lifelong Republican, he told me. But he pointed to my Obama button and said he had voted for my candidate and a straight Democratic ticket for the first time in his life.
"We need change," he said.
I don't know if we're going to win West Virginia. I doubt it. But I do know this. We won today.