Never in a million years did I think I’d be spending Election Day 08 in North Carolina with the state a tossup. Though UNITE HERE has deep roots in the state, North Carolina has some of the lowest union density in the country. Yet here I am in North Carolina, "embedded" in an enormous mobilization of union members who are volunteering for Barack Obama, Kay Hagan, Larry Kissell, Bev Perdue and other Democratic candidates. With the Presidential candidates running neck-and-neck here for the first time since Carter, there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
I’m here because Change to Win (CTW) had the vision to see this state’s potential since back in the Primary when UNITE HERE’s massively successful efforts for Obama helped secure his win in this pivotal state. Political Director of Change to Win, Jeffery Lerner tells me that in a lot of traditionally red states CTW is the main organization doing work. CTW decided it made sense for us to be in a state where our efforts could be the difference; "Everyone is in OH PA and FL. We are the ones here".
We’ve done 40,000 doors this week alone, on Saturday we were responsible for 15% of the doors hit for Obama, a quarter of the doors knocked in the Charlotte area Saturday and there will be hundreds more volunteers tomorrow for Election Day. Willie Carey, CTW’s Political Director for North Carolina and native son, tells me we’ve gone over our turf so many times they’ve had to race to assemble new turf for us to cover. Our likely voters and likely-ish voters have been hit many times. We’re down to hitting sporadic voters. And the sporadic voters are falling in love with Obama.
I hear stories from those who’ve been canvassing for weeks that they find people in their 70s who've never voted before and they talk with them and decide this time nothing’s going to stop them from voting. A lot of our work is voter education oriented as we hit the communities around where our members live. Some of the areas the unions covered have never been door-knocked before and they tell our volunteers that they are honored (!) to be canvassed. For the first time people can remember, communities are actually excited to have us interrupt their day. Volunteers will be door-knocking one side of the street and the folks living across the way will call them over to their door to talk and ask questions about early voting and getting their votes counted. There's a confusing aspect of the NC ballot where voters who want to cast a straight-ticket ballot must still vote for President separately. So explaining that is often in our "rap".
Patricia Thatcher, a shop steward and President of UH Local 710, over in South Carolina has been volunteering for a while in NC and tells me "there’s not a day that goes by without someone thanking us for what we are doing. When children come to the window when I knock and see the Obama sticker on my clipboard they start chanting "Obama! Obama?" and drag their parents to the door.
Today I door-knocked a woman who’ s husband had recently passed and she told me hold on a second-- and went in the house and got me a pen with an angel on it because I was "doing the work of angels". I was lost for words. Which is rare.
Senior citizens so old that they tell us their parents were former slaves reassure us that they’ve already done early voting. Early voting will really make a difference here, especially for seniors and people working 2 and more jobs. The AP reports:
"In North Carolina, Democrats cast nearly twice as many early ballots as Republicans, 1.4 million ballots to 780,000. As of Sunday, more than 40 percent of registered voters had already cast ballots, leading elections officials to reduce expectations of Election Day turnout".
That matches my experience doing nonpartisan voter education work today-- so many folks have already voted and our proud to tell me so. One volunteer tells me that during the early voting period he saw young voters getting dolled-up in their club gear and all going to the polls together as a social event. Church groups are doing that too, camping out to wait sometimes 6 hours to do early voting. Last week one of our volunteers was outside a polling place during the early voting period and a woman in line called out her name "Erin! I’m in line here to vote because of you!" She had been worried about the long lines but Erin had door-knocked her house earlier in the day and convinced her that she needed to brave the crowds.
Leslie Dogan from UNITE HERE has been in North Carolina since the primary. She tells me that our volunteers have been so successful because they are from the communities they are canvassing, so what they say really resonates with people. She tells me that tomorrow we’ll have a flat truck with music and streamers going around town spreading the word. I also hear that tomorrow right before the polls close our volunteers will head over to their nearest polling place to make sure that everyone that’s in line at 7:30pm gets in to vote, which the state law allows much to the chagrin of the suppress the vote types.
And yes, the pulled pork here is excellent.
I’ll have more for you tomorrow. More reports. Not more bbq. You'll have to come here yourself for that.