Campaign enters its final few weeks with spirits high


WITH LESS than two weeks to go, the grassroots campaign team is feeling the strain. It’s not just the stress of the polls showing how close the race is, it’s also the sheer volume of work.

Obama’s excellent debate performance on Monday did raise spirits. But in contrast to the first debate when we all gathered together in a local pub, this time people watched on computer at the office, or at home after a canvass. No time for pints and post-debate analysis when there is data to enter and calls to make.

The Get Out the Vote campaign started in earnest once mail-in ballot papers went out. Whereas earlier in the campaign we talked to independent voters and registered new voters, now it’s all about getting out the base. In theory this should be easier and a lot more pleasant; you’re not going to get into arguments, you’re just gently reminding people to cast their vote.

But the reality is it’s the same slog, endless knocking on doors, and filling in forms.

The Obama campaign is incredibly data-hungry; everything is organised, targeted and meticulously recorded. For each volunteer on a canvass shift we produce a specific packet showing the houses they are to visit with the names and ages of the expected occupants and other information. The volunteer then records data about each visit on the packet. This data has to be entered into the system before the end of each day, so the numbers are ready for the nightly call with the head office.

It’s all about the metrics. Our key measures are the number of doors knocked or numbers dialled for a phone canvass, and the resulting number of actual conversations. It’s expected that the percentage of conversations will be low. So the daily-doors- knocked target is correspondingly high, and keeps increasing.

The lion’s share of the work goes to the paid field officers who are full-time on the campaign and are each responsible for an individual turf. They are working 16-hour days, seven days a week. They have to constantly recruit more volunteers, meet their daily shift targets and also support any additional events, such as Obama’s return visit to Denver on Wednesday.

Most of them handle the pressure with grace. Paul and Sarah, a New York couple in their late 20s, manage three precincts each, but are always smiling and cheerful. It’s their second campaign so knowing what to expect probably helps.

My local field officer was not so resilient. Fresh out of college, she had driven across country a month earlier to work on the campaign, but found the relentless pressure overwhelming. Caught in a vicious cycle, without enough volunteers, she ended up doing more canvass shifts herself, which meant less time for volunteer recruitment calls, and the inevitable meltdown when her daily targets started climbing.

Wednesday’s visit from Obama was a welcome change in routine. Early that morning I went to Denver City Park with Helen, a Londoner, and Kate from Seattle. We were given our assignments. Helen got the plum job, she got to greet the press and hang out with them at the coffee tent.

Kate and I joined the group managing the line. A simple job but stressful. Some volunteers took their roles very seriously, holding up the line to collect tickets and causing mayhem as other people cut in front.

A protester holding a Fire Obama sign and yelling racist comments incited intense arguments, but she moved on before it got physical.

The Romney campaign boasted that they had to turn people away from his rally at Red Rocks on Tuesday. We were determined that everyone who turned up to see Obama would get in. It was touch and go, but the last people passed through security just minutes before he took the stage.

He gave another rousing speech, mocking Romney’s “Romnesia”. The crowd were adoring. People who had been testy and aggressive moments before were now beaming benevolently. Fired up, ready to go? Let’s hope they respond to Obama’s plea and volunteer for a shift this week!

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell yesterday endorsed Mr Obama’s bid for re-election, citing the president’s efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan and tackle terrorism as well as an improving US economy. “I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on,” the Republican, who also backed Mr Obama in 2008, told CBS This Morning. “I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012.”

Emer MacDowell is a Dublin-born software developer who moved to Denver last month. She is a volunteer with the Obama campaign