(RENO, NV.) Politics is one of the few activities that matches sports in
uniting unrelated peoples in common, competitive, exciting endeavor.
That truth struck me yet again over the weekend while my sister, my eldest
son and I were canvassing for Obama in Nevada.
The thousands of volunteers pouring into Nevada from California, and also
those who drove down from Oregon and Idaho and elsewhere, were often quite
different from each other in educational background, ethnicity, age, class,
etc., yet were united in common cause. None of the distinctions mattered,
just as it doesn't matter in competitive sports: What matters is playing up
to one's (and the teams') potential, and trying as hard as possible to
emerge the winner. And having fun while doing so.
The throngs of volunteers that converged on a warehouse in downtown Reno
this weekend -- about 1500 for our orientation -- were typical. We came from
all over, from varying backgrounds, even from different political agendas at
times, but an inspiring vision and excitement united us: a world where
"conservative" extremism would no longer rule and ruin our country, and much
of the world, as has been the case for at least the past eight years under
Obama, with all his flaws on this policy or that, is the embodiment of this
vision, of hope for significant change -- the first real chance for winning
a substantial presidential-cum-legislative victory that many of us Democrats
had experienced in a long, long time.
SPARKS AND CLARK
My sister Linda and I were canvassing in Sparks, near Reno, while my eldest
son Erik was working the precincts in Las Vegas. Virtually all the
volunteers we met were guardedly optimistic but wary about Obama's chances
in Nevada and nationwide. We'd all been badly Roved before and weren't about
to start counting our chickens before the hatching on November 4th.
Clark County/Las Vegas is much more liberal than Washoe County/Sparks-Reno,
which, at least the sections we canvassed, seems more working-class and
conservative. But even here, Linda and I found that the number of Obama
supporters were about even with those for McCain.
This near-tie mirrors the advance polls, which showed a tight race for
Nevada's five electoral votes. Obama had a very slight lead going into the
November 4th voting, and more Democrats had early-voted than had
Republicans, a pattern that had been replicated across the country.
Similarly, tens of thousands of lawyers have been enlisted in the various
states, Nevada included, as part of the "voting protection" program of the
Obama campaign, to be on call in each precinct to deal instantly with
illegalities or voter-purging issues that might arise throughout Election
A ROBBERY IN BROAD DAYLIGHT?
As I write this, the handwriting is clearly on the wall for a substantial
Obama victory on November 4th. But that assumes that the Republicans,
staring a likely Electoral College tsunami in the face, would back off this
time from trying to steal the election yet again. Such thievery tactics as
vote-tampering, the usual dirty tricks and last-minute robo-calling lies,
viral-email distortions of the record, etc., would be too embarrassingly
But these guys are desperate, and long ago took the low road into the moral
swamp that passes for Republican politics these days. They might well feel
that since they've never been punished in the past for manipulating the
election results, why not just go and steal another election and let a
cowed, confused public deal ex post facto with the blatant,
I don't think this will happen, but I wouldn't put it past them to seriously
consider trying once more to take what they can get while they think they
can get away with it.
MEETING ACTUAL VOTERS
The most discouraging aspect of this canvassing? Hearing from a small but
significant number of registered Democrats that they were supporting McCain.
When we asked why the switch, several seemed to pause, as if having to think
up a reason, and then came back with issues such as abortion and guns ("he
wants to take away my rifles"), the latter a hot-button issue in Nevada.
But these defections were more than made up for by registered Republicans
and Non-Partisans who were quite proud that they were voting for Obama this
time out. When we asked them why their switches, some told us their personal
tales of lost jobs under a tanking economy, which they tied to the Bush
Administration, with more of the same under a McCain presidency. Others said
they were appalled by the Palin choice. Other said they felt more inspired
by the expectation, or at least hope, that under an Obama administration,
significant changes might actually occur with regard to the economy, the
war, health care, etc.
Aside from one young man who screamed loud curses at us from his pickup
truck as we did our canvassing walk up one residential street, we had only a
handful of negative encounters, even from those supporting McCain. This
surprised us somewhat. We also were delighted when other stereotypes were
broken, such as, for example, when we'd come to a house occupied by a
registered Republican, with two or more American-flag decaled pickup trucks
in the driveway, only to be told with enthusiasm that they'd early-voted for
We shall see in a few hours whether McCain saying "we've got them just where
we want them" was little more than smoke emanating from a nether part of his
anatomy, or a bit of obvious self-deprecating jokery, or because he knew
something about the shady Roveian behind-the-curtain techniques that would
snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Some other final observations about the election:
1. Knowing the anger, racial resentment and "patriotic" fervor stirred up by
Palin and McCain among their followers, I was impressed with the Obama
campaign's security operation. In Nevada, and maybe elsewhere, cell-phone
numbers and locations for campaign activities were kept relatively secret,
on a need-to-know basis. The central headquarters in Reno, for example, was
a nondescript warehouse, with only a few small signs indicating where
volunteers should enter. Our staging spot for canvassing in Sparks was in
the back room of an essentially unmarked building housing an Italian
restaurant, with just a tiny Obama sign in the front window to let the
volunteers know this was the spot. In some ways all this secrecy seemed
almost comical, but in the real world of 2008 passionate politics, I
appreciated such tight security.
2. I can't tell you how many times I heard Democratic volunteers state out
loud that they can't take any more of extremist "conservative" rule, and
would be forced to rethink all their available options, from leaving the
country to actual and undefined "revolution," if McCain/Palin were declared
I heard nary a positive word for Sarah Palin the entire weekend from any
Democrat; however, while canvassing, one registered Democratic woman told
us, with a smirk on her face as she watched our faces, that she would be
voting for "Madame Palin." Note: One Obama canvasser had outfitted herself
to resemble Palin -- spiffy high heels, striking red jacket ("bought not for
150 thousand but for a dollar and a half at a thrift store") and nice skirt,
hair up, Sarah-type glasses -- and said she couldn't wait for the reactions
from registered Republicans she'd be meeting.
3. The Obama campaign, more than most recent Democratic campaigns, is truly
multi-ethnic, just as the candidate himself is. Those of Asian, African,
European, Native American, Latino extraction are involved, which adds to the
strength of the Obama teams out canvassing.
Two experiences along those lines.
A. We were having lunch at a local brewpub in Sparks with an
African-American woman, a real-estate agent, and her 25-year-old daughter,
who works at a publishing house; they had driven here from San Jose,
California. Hearing the mother talk about her tears when Michelle Obama
spoke at the Democratic National Convention, saying so much that was
relevant to her life when she was growing up in Louisiana, touched our
hearts. My sister and I might never had heard this story were it not for the
fact that the four of us had met at the canvassing orientation in Sparks.
B. While Linda and I were out canvassing, a young African-American woman
spotted us and came over to talk. She thanked us for what we were doing and
then, in a spontaneous five-minute oration, delivered one of the best
arguments for why voters should choose Obama. We were in awe of her command
of the arguments. Her words were passionate, spot-on, and absolutely
inspiring. She wasn't a campaign worker or volunteer, just another ordinary
American turned on by what Obama represents in this campaign. We felt
uplifted and marched to our next house even more confident in the rightness
of our cause.
PHONE-SEX AND THE REAL THING
To return to the original sports analogy at the beginning of this piece, I'm
glad we drove from San Francisco and Los Angeles to canvass in Nevada,
especially since Obama's victory in California was never in question. Here
was a genuine chance, with like-minded teammates, to make a face-to-face
difference in an election (quite different from phone-calling into various
states) by actually going out and talking with likely voters in a swing
state, many from sub-groups we'd probably never meet in ordinary life.
Our bodies have felt the toll of competitive politics -- sore feet, painful
knees and lower backs from all the miles of walking while canvassing -- but
the emotional, and we hope the electoral, payoff has been well worth it.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of volunteers have been engaged in
this messy glory that is democracy. If you haven't volunteered in a
political campaign, try it sometimes. It's good for what ails ya. You
Copyright 2008, by Bernard Weiner