A Final Perspective from a New Hampshire Volunteer


cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics

This week has been a mess as far as major media is concerned. I got caught up in a frenzy last weekend and so did many in the country. Over the past week, writers for this blog have attempted to make sense of New Hampshire, the polls, the potential Bradley Effect, women voters and Obama's prospects in South Carolina. So, I'm excited to present a perspective from a soldier in the ground this past weekend.

He's a (black) friend I haven't seen since middle school, but he heard I was looking for New Hampshire first-hand stories. He wrote this to me on Monday, before the vote (and before the tears). There is some incredibly accurate analysis which challenges the mainstream media narrative and some of the conclusions drawn by this blog; there is also just plain interesting observation. I have made bold certain sections for emphasis and removed peoples' last names. Otherwise, these are his words.
i went to nh this weekend and here is my journal about it. feel free to send on to whomever you think will appreciate it. i am hoping some folks who are thinking about helping out will do so. it was one of my proudest moments.

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As asked by most of you, but not all of you, here are some highlights from the canvassing we did in Hollis, NH (just outside of Nashua) this weekend.
i broke it down into stats and fun stories. i tried to make it as unbiased as possible, but obviously my heart is in a specific place

if you are at all interested in seeing Obama win, trust me when i say he is still the underdog even if he wins today we need your help. people are only now beginning to take a look at him and consider him as a legitimate candidate. no matter what magazine cover he is on or
interview he gets, before Thursday, folks were convinced he could not be elected. while they are taking a look at him now, the opposition will probably stop at nothing (for example going negative this weekend) to win the big states that will be up for grabs on super tuesday,

even if Senator Obama wins today this thing is far from over

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First off, Christine, Jake and I left Brooklyn (without a confirmed place to stay) around 7:30PM and arrived at 12:30AM. Around 11PM, the campaign called us (for the fourth time that evening) and told us that Jonathan had offered to let the "two of us sleep" on "Jonathan's" floor. We told the campaign that we had a last minute addition of one volunteer and after a few more phone calls, we were told that Jonathan was happy to have all three of us. Naturally, I assumed that Jonathan was an employee of the campaign whose hotel room was paid for. Turned out, he
was a volunteer from NYC, just out of the Navy and he was paying for the room himself. Could not have been a more pleasant guy. We agreed that he had a Ralph Maccio thing going on which added to the flavor of the night. There was just enough floor space for us to sleep on the cigarette smoke ridden carpets.

We arrived at the canvassing HQ at 9:30 the next morning. The HQ was the basement of Tom and Mary's spacious house. They had a son
who graduated from Williams in '97, so we chose to focus on our admiration for Obama instead of any school rivalry. However Tom and I bonded over having both been present at the best football game ever (Williams v. Amherst -1997)

The basement was home to 4-6 volunteer coordinators who had been there for I don't know how long. At any given moment, there were also tens of volunteers who came from as far as DC (Maine, PA, NYC, Conn were represented as well) to canvas. Strangers came in and out of their home and Tom and Mary always had a smile on their face and a conversation to start. Tom would later share with me that after NH was over, he planned to travel to other states to help out. The field coordinators were college kids (Mt. Holyoke was in effect) with all
sorts of energy and just about as much maturity. They sent us off with addresses, maps and flyers (they had different flyers for each day) and
told us to get to work. "Get-r- done," became my motto for the weekend to quote Larry the Cable Guy.

APPROXIMATED STATS

I do not know from where the campaign got the lists of the addresses we canvassed.

40% of the homes visited did not answer the door. I saw a handful of people peek out of a window and I would smile and wave and continue walking away having already stuck a flyer by their doorknob.

When I knocked on a house, my opening line consistently was "Hi (smile), I'm canvassing for the Obama campaign and I was wondering if you were planning on voting on Tuesday." Not a single person responded with a negative expression or comment. If they did not tell me their preference then I would ask if they were considering voting for the Senator. I would say 20% were for Obama, another 10% were leaning towards him. 20% were for a smattering of candidates, mostly, Mccain, Romney, Edwards and Clinton, in that order. This is where it
gets interesting.

Another 20% were deciding between Mccain and Obama! (for those
who don't know, registered independents in NH (40% of the state's 1.3 million citizens) are allowed to vote in either primary). These were the people with whom I had the longest conversations. 65% of them were leaning towards Mccain. The conversations suggested that these
were Republican leaning moderates who really are tired of the party and are looking for someone fresh and are hoping that Mccain can impress
them by today. The remaining 30% were undecided and/or had no desire to show their hands (people in their 50's and 60's were especially less
interested in telling me who they were voting for or who they were leaning towards while folks north of 65 were comfortable sharing anything.

I read and heard that app. 50% of the state genuinely had not made up their mind by last Friday. I think much of this uncertainty has to do with two factors. 1. The republican candidates are a mess 2. Obama has turned this into a true competition and now that people believe the country just might be willing to elect him, he is only just now getting the attention and consideration worthy of a legitimate candidate, further complicating matters.

10% of the people I spoke to were Republicans and could not vote in the Dem. Primary. Yet they also wanted to talk the most and for the longest. I was happy to do so, because while they pretty much knew who their first choice was, many stated that Obama was their second preference if their republican choice did not make it to the general election.

Many people expressed frustration with the number of flyers and phone calls, yet they often participated in a 5-10 minute conversation with us. They seemed to want the personal communication. At one point, Christine (who was welcomed inside by many homes) was having a conversation with a woman and the Obama campaign called this woman. The woman explained that she had a Obama canvasser in the house, yet whomever was calling kept on talking. The woman eventually told her that she would prefer to talk to Christine. Before Christine left the house, the Obama campaign called again.

As much as we got the impression that people were tired of all of the attention, the attention itself did not seem to have a negative effect on their decision. Which is a good thing for the Obama campaign, because as was said of their organization in Iowa and of SC and Nev., the effort, in manpower and other resources, is massive as well as first rate (see an email below from the chairwoman of the financial committee of the campaign).

The most important issue for anyone over 40 (the majority of the people we talked to) was health care. The war did not come up much, everyone seemed to be on the same page about it. Not one person mentioned wanting a president who was experienced in foreign policy and very few talked about the experience question in general. It felt like Obama was the choice because he has a good message and they did not seem to think anyone else was especially stronger on issues than he is.

MOMENTS FROM THE CANVASSING

A 68 year old man telling me he was voting for Obama and that he doesn't want a woman in the White House. Me worrying that I had just cost the Senator a vote because I could not help but say, "Huh," in disbelief and with shock in my face. He noticed I was surprised and then said, "I don't know why?"

A man in his early 70's asking me if the Senator would get inaugurated with his hand on a Bible or a Koran. Fortunately, I had already talked to the 68-year-old sexist so I was ready for mind boggling comments. I told the man that Obama is a Christian and the man said, "OK, well, I'm having supper right now, thank you." It was 11:30 AM.

A white male who had voted for FDR telling me that Obama (for whom he was voting) should ask Colin Powell to be his running mate. I immediately responded with a cynical laugh, "You don't really think this country will elect two black men do you?" He screamed, "Why not..." with legitimate anger and made me feel like I was the bigot, as if I had not had enough Obama KoolAid that day.

A woman telling me that she voted for Bush twice and was now leaning towards Obama.

Three families with republican parents and two children voting for Obama absentee from college.

Driving around NH using googlemaps on Jake's I-Phone to find different side streets. I wish I knew someone at Apple, because we could make a great short movie about this (anyone?)

Bumped into some fellow volunteers who had been in town all week (from DC). One of them said that they had been calling people all week trying to shore up attendance for his rally at a school on Saturday afternoon. In the middle of the week, the campaign was worried about attendance and asked the phone callers to ask people to RSVP. They were expecting 500 people. 2,700 showed up and the line extended way outside and people had to watch via TV in another hall.

At the end of Saturday night, I went to Don's home. He invited me inside for a glass of water. It was the first time someone had invited me in, and I was sad about that fact because my friend who flew from San Fran to canvass in Iowa for a week said that he was invited inside a number of times. I had been looking forward to similar hospitality. Don was undecided and asked me about Obama's platform, I was able to answer his questions about the budget and the war, but not about job creation. Don's wife is in full support of Clinton. Don asked his mother-in-law to come downstairs. Turns out she is a registered republican who has donated the maximum to obama and is sick to her stomach that she did not change her affiliation to independent so that she could vote for him. She gave me her number to give to a volunteer coordinator.

***The next day, as we drove back to HQ, around 4PM, to return our information before heading home, I drove by Don who was going for a walk. I stopped him and chatted him up. He said Obama did a very good job in the debate and that he liked what he had to say about the issues. He said he was mulling his decision on the walk he was taking. I thanked him one last time for his hospitality and we said our goodbyes.

SATURDAY NIGHT/ THE DEBATE

A greek owned pizzeria played host to the obama volunteers gathering to watch the debate on Saturday night. I wont forget the evening for a long time. Agewise, genderwise, racially, the spectrum was represented. I was really happy to see most of the women wearing a "Women for Obama" pin. The Hotchkiss School (shout out to Emily) even had a group of 7-10 teenagers. What struck me most about the comments made in the room during the debate was how complimentary people were of Clinton and her grasp of the issues. I was pleased to see that my fellow supporters of Obama recognized that Clinton is a worthy candidate and they simply believe in Obama more.

Afterwards, we hurried home to catch the spin on CNN, and Britney Spears was the story. The clock struck 12 and it was Christine's bday so we went out for one drink. We went to the biggest resturant by day & bar/disco by night in Nashua and befriended the owner. He was miffed that Obama did not mingle more with his customers the two times he came for lunch meetings. He also wasn't crazy about Obama's tax plans. However, he said he was probably going to vote for Obama.