(Cross-posted at Raising Kaine)
Update [2008-11-9 17:1:19 by RenaRF]: A commenter objected to the connotation of "Shock & Awe" in the title. But frankly, I couldn't think of a better title to characterize what went on here in VA. Thankfully, BobzCat gave me the perfect title: "Barack & Awe*. Diary titled edited with grateful attribution. :)
I've been planning a diary about what happened in Virginia for the last week. Finally, I have time to sit down and share my stories as well as some interesting analysis.
What happened in Virginia was an electoral version of shock and awe. It was nothing short of spectacular - and I was fortunate enough to witness it and participate in it on the ground for Barack Obama.
More over the fold.
First, many here know that I was very involved on the ground for Webb's Senate victory in 2006, along with other Kossacks. We wrote about it extensively - begged for money, begged for remote phone-bankers, and begged for local ground-level volunteers. We got all of that. This community absolutely responded and was an integral part of Webb's win over the disgusting George Allen, Jr. What people may have forgotten, however, is how very NARROW the margin of victory was for Jim Webb. He won by 0.39%. That's less than one half of one percent. It was close - too close.
So this cycle, building on the idea that nothing motivates quite like success (which we experienced in 2006), many of us got started early for Barack Obama. There were several phases of the ground game and canvass effort here in Virginia, and we were greatly helped by the existence of 50 or more offices across the state. The first two phases started during the primaries and picked up on June when it was clear that Obama would win the Democratic nomination. These were voter identification, where you knock on the doors of voters who affiliation you can't identify in an effort to fully identify lean and strong Obama voters, and voter registration, where you manned tables and/or knocked doors in Democratic areas to ensure registration of your voters. Sometimes, these two activities were done in a single canvass. Sometimes they were functionally separate. The voter ID and registration phases ended in the first week of October, and left the final month of the campaign for concerted get-out-the-vote efforts.
Every weekend that I was in town, I showed up to canvass. I chose, primarily, the Arlington and Alexandria areas, but I was also sent to Loudoun and down to Prince William. So be it. But let me fast-forward and talk specifically about the final, intense push from Saturday November 1 through the final voting on Tuesday November 4.
First - and people don't realize this - from July to poll closing on election day, every Northern Virginia office - in the city, suburbs, and exurbs - was packed. Those of us who had been at the canvass for a while knew that if we were to actually secure a canvass packet, we had to show up fully an hour before the canvass was scheduled to start and lay claim to a packet on the basis of hyper-punctuality. So complete was the volunteer saturation that they literally ran out of walk lists for the number of people who showed up. I saw this consistently throughout the offices where I worked.
Saturday and Sunday were no different. On Saturday, I did a North Arlington canvass and then went out and did a McLean canvass. Now - North Arlington is notoriously Democratic and deep blue regardless of the relative income level of the neighborhood. The canvass was primarily get-out-the-vote, but there was some holdover identification where previous efforts simply hadn't yielded a result. The voters who I spoke to in North Arlington were almost exclusively Obama voters and were vocally committed to waiting as long as it would take to vote on election day. The McLean canvass was weirder. I was in a high high dollar neighborhood. I'd say the homes in this particular area were in the neighborhood of $2M-$3M. So large were these lots that I literally had to drive to each house on the list. I didn't get a lot of people home - only four of the houses on my list had someone who answered the door. One voter - a 27 year old man - was definitely voting for McCain. That's not unusual in this particular area of Fairfax County. I chalked it up to money trying to protect money (sad but true). BUT - the other three houses not only contained families of Obama voters - they were families who had also voted early in-person absentee and went solidly for the entire Democratic ticket.
It was after that McLean canvass that I started to get super excited. Sunday saw me doing Alexandria. I particularly loved this canvass because I was able to take along a first-time volunteer who wanted to tag along with someone who knew how to canvass. Our first neighborhood was in Alexandria around the Masonic Temple (if you're familiar with the area, the masonic Temple is a well-known landmark). On our way over, I had a chance to speak with my new volunteer, Nico. Nico isn't a US citizen. He's here on a work visa finishing an advanced degree in astro-physics. I asked him why he felt the need to volunteer. His answer (which I'll paraphrase) was really interesting.
NICO: "I didn't have a strong opinion until the Republican Convention. When I watched McCain, I thought, 'this guy is crazy'. He scared me. What America does affects the rest of the world. In France, if we go along with whatever America has decided to do, we send people to war. And if we don't go along with it, we deal with the scorn of America. I figured I should do what I could to help Obama because I believe that he'll be good for the rest of the world."
Amen. About three doors into our canvass, after getting positive results, Nico was on fire. He was totally all about knocking on doors and talking to voters. It was really, really excellent. When we got back to the organizing location to fill in our tally sheet and turn in our packet, Nico pulled me aside and said, "We're doing another one, yes?". Yes. Ha. :) So off we went to the Del Rey area of Alexandria to get out that vote.
Monday was, without exception, one of the most awesome mobilizations I have ever seen. The goal was simple: place a door hanger on every single door across the state of Virginia where we had identified a lean or strong Obama voter. The door hangers gave the date of the election, provided some basic voting rights information, provided a number to call if the voter needed a ride or had other questions, and were stamped with the voter's specific polling location. Four shifts were scheduled to get it done. By the end of the second shift, every single door hanger had been distributed in Northern Virginia. Every. Single. One. The volunteer turnout was so massive that it was just done.
I wrote a diary earlier in the week about an "emergency" canvass we did late Monday - I won't go into the details here as you can read about it if you desire - but it made the day feel completely worthwhile and made the excitement build that much more.
I got up at 5:30 on election day. I brushed my teeth, threw on sweats, and rolled out to my polling location for the 6am open. It took me until almost 7am to actually cast my vote. I have NEVER seen the number of people I saw in line to vote in my 12 years of voting at this particular location. So although I was tired (Monday had been a late night - I went to a rally in Alexandria where they had a Jumbotron for us to watch Obama's Manassas rally), seeing the lines let me know that the final get-out-the-vote effort was critical.
I headed to Arlington. They were overwhelmed with volunteers. They asked if I would travel, and I told them I would (of course). They sent me to Dale City, in Prince William County. From there, they sent me out to canvass a predominantly Democratic area of medium-to-low income voters who don't always turn out. I did both a Pass 1 and Pass 2 canvass. A LOT of people were home. And of those people, about 75% had already voted and had voted for Obama. I could feel this victory.
After the canvass, I went quickly home - I phonebanked to other parts of Virginia via the web site, then changed my clothes and headed to the McLean Hilton, where Warner's victory party was to be held. It was actually a nail-biter, because Virginia didn't get called for Obama until about 11pm EST. When you looked at the results, McCain looked to be wildly ahead. I had my laptop and wireless card on me, so I pulled up the Virginia results site and saw that virtually NONE of the Democratic counties and cities had reported. I felt better, but we were all totally on edge. When Virginia fell, the whole election fell shortly thereafter.
So here's what's interesting about Virginia's numbers.
First, let's look at counties and cities that were won by Kerry in 2004 and also won by Obama in 2008 (2008 VA Presidential results can be found here. 2004 Presidential results can be found here - just use the drop-down box to select a particular city or county):
Look at how dramatically Obama improved over Kerry's numbers and how it came totally at the expense of John McCain. A M A Z I N G.
But here's one that's even more amazing. I pared down my list to those counties/cities that McCain picked up over 2004 vs. those Obama picked up over 2004. LOOK at this (Sorry - I intended to edit out Arlington in the second chart and now that it's a JPG, I can't remove it):
Obama picked up NINETEEN counties and cities over Kerry in 2004. NINETEEN. There were only EIGHT cities or counties - two of which are above - where Obama lost ground compared to Kerry's 2004 margin, win or lose. So what I'm saying is - even where Obama lost in a particular city or county, he did so by gaining over Kerry's 2004 performance at the expense of John McCain.
The shock and awe, of course, started with the candidate himself. But really - credit is due to the impressive nature of the organization in Virginia and the selfless, repeated efforts by thousands of volunteers who showed up again and again.
Personal closing note: I really had intended to write this diary on Wednesday. Unfortunately, at 10:30am on Wednesday, I found out that I am likely to be laid off next week. My whole group is being dissolved. So, if you can spare some good thoughts, karma, prayers, whatever - I'd surely appreciate it!