“All politics is local.” –Tip O’Neill
I signed up to be a pawn in the ground game of battleground state Virginia. This morning, I headed for DC’s canvassing rendezvous point, and was directed to a waiting carpool. On the ride, I met three wonderful DC Democrats, who, like me, are highly educated young professionals and world travelers. We were Glenn Beck’s nightmare, whistling south toward Dixie. Eventually, we rolled up at a suburban home in Loudon county. The neatly finished basement was a war room. Staffers clacked at laptops glowing with data. A field commander crisply briefed us that the target was past Democratic voters and the mission was to get out the vote by giving them all the necessary county voting information and getting them to commit to a plan to head to the polls. We geared up with leaflets, buttons, stickers, placards, lists of names and addresses, maps, scripts and pens and then deployed.
As we approached our quadrant of the battlefield, we veered around a highway on ramp peppered with both Democratic and Republican yard signs. Silent duels played out on each street. Romney and Obama signs stared each other down across narrow roads. Kaine and Allen for Senate signs played leapfrog down a bumpy country route. We realized that the people we’d be contacting were deluged with campaign advertising. It would be best to tread as lightly as possible. The GPS cooed “Destination.” as we pulled into the kind of sterile housing development where the grass is always 2.4173 inches high and dogs walk their owners.
We made final invasion plans then split up. I locked a smile and loaded the spiel “Hi, is ______ here? Hello, _______ I’m a volunteer for Organize for America in Virginia. Are you planning to vote for president Obama in the upcoming election?”
I waded through begonias and knocked on a door. And waited. Checked “not home.” Headed to the next house. Knocked on the door. And waited.
More than half of the target homeowners were at their kid’s soccer game.
The first time I made contact, a woman looked at me through the window, rolled her eyes and waved ‘no.’
By the time someone opened the door, I had forgotten the spiel. “Hi, uhhh, oh, are you Mr. ________ ? Are you planning to vote for president Obama?”
He kind of shrugged shyly. “Probably not.”
“Okay, have a great day!”
One woman opened the door, cocked her head and said “I’m sorry, we’re voting Republican.”
One white-haired Southern gentleman came to the door. Slow as molasses, he appraised my Obama sticker and said, “Hello.”
“Hi, my name is Marc, I’m volunteering for Organize for America, are you planning to vote for president Obama?”
“Well, Marc. I do believe. I have the privilege. That I don’t have to tell you how I plan to vote.”
“You are absolutely correct, sir. Have a good day.”
I skipped to the bottom of his steps and he called out, “Marc.” I looked over my shoulder. “Thank you for volunteering.”
“Thank you, sir.”
One woman answered the door and, referring to her family, said, “we’ve been canvassing, too. We’re going to win Virginia.” Check, check. Check, check.
I knocked on one door and it swung open a moment later, a huge man bounded out onto his patio and regaled me about his brood of children, the various branches of the military they were serving in, and how they had already voted absentee for Obama. We talked for a while about the campaign. I asked him what he thought about his neighborhood. He told me it was very diverse. This I had realized already. Based on the names on the lists and the people I met, the neighborhood consisted of white and black folks and significant contingents of probably second or third generation Asians, Arabs and Hispanics, all comfortably middle class. He also said that everyone is cordial and polite, but no one was particularly close. He had grown up in DC and said that this neighborhood was a good place to raise kids, but didn’t have the same sense of community as his old neighborhood in the city. “These people aren’t about to throw a block party.” I asked him what he thought about the dueling yard signs. He shrugged. “Everyone leaves each other alone.”
As my route wound down, my gut told me that tiny factors could easily tip Virginia for Obama. While it is by no means a scientific observation, I came away with the intuitive sense that Democrats, while slightly outnumbered, were much more pumped for the election. They could see a Democratic Virginia over the horizon. People voting for Romney seemed almost embarrassed about it. In spite of the yard signs, I didn’t get the sense that anyone is incredibly enamored with Mitt Romney. I believe that, at least in suburban Northern Virginia, support for Republicans may be slightly broader but flimsy, while support for Democrats is narrower but runs deep. The battle for Virginia is a weather vane versus a granite vein.
Almost a century and a half after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, the North is on the verge of absorbing Virginia. That demographic revolution has pushed the Mason Dixon political fault line as far south as Richmond.
With ten days until the election, providing your boots on the ground for the Democrats’ ground game is very real support you could provide to make sure Obama is reelected and Congress regulates Wall Street more than the uterus. You can search for a canvassing event near you by clicking on this sentence. You can make a difference in this election by canvassing, especially if you live in or near Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia or Wisconsin. But even if you don’t, every vote will count in this election. The popular vote will be very close. Obama will need to pair his electoral majority with a clean popular vote majority to break the House’s recalcitrance. Each person you contact could impact the election. On the ride back to DC, a young woman I canvassed with told me about one particular encounter she had. She knocked on a door, and the old woman who answered enthusiastically pulled her into her house. She asked her how to fill out the absentee ballot she had received in the mail with convoluted instructions. The old woman was a newly naturalized citizen, eager to vote for president Obama, ecstatic to vote for the first time in her life.