Somewhere between 200 and 300 people crowded into Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign headquarters in Anchorage, Alaska, Tuesday night for the campaign's open house.
Three senior staff members gave opening remarks. State Director Kat Pustay told the crowd that the battle for this state is more than just a "nod," and that Alaska is a poster child for the changing electoral map.
General Election Director Patrick DeTemple from the campaign's Chicago headquarters said that the campaign was dedicated to Alaska so strongly because of the caucus, where about 9,000 voters participated. The campaign, he said, took note of that turnout, of the "vigor" of Obama supporters in Alaska.
Alaska Field Director Chris Farrell, as he is wont to do, began his remarks by enlisting the crowd in a chant. Not the usual "Fired up and Ready to Go'" he said. "This time, I want to do something different." Alaskans aren't necessarily a chanting bunch. Many moved here, in fact, to get away from crowds doing things in unison. But before long, most of the people were intoning:
Oh, Oh, Oh, Obama
Oh, Oh, Barack Obama
After Farrell was finished, everyone was herded into groups based on precincts. Each group had its own organizer, one of about 40 in the state so far, who took names and enlisted help. Farrell told that crowd that the campaign isn't done hiring organizers. Just that day, he said, he had hired 12 more.
Nobody in the campaign is allowed to speak to the media on the record until Friday, when a communications person will arrive in Alaska. Anonymously, however, a campaign member said that before the general election, Alaska might be the temporary home to more than 50 Obama staffers.
Alaskans, like residents of many Western states, are leery of outsiders, particularly those who come here for elections. Much was made of the outsiders who came to the state in 2004 for the U.S. senate race, when former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles ran against Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father, Frank Murkowski, to fill his term when he was elected governor in 2002.
One Murkowski radio ad encouraged Alaskans to ask the young canvassers who knocked on their doors if they were from Alaska. Another featured fictitious party activists mispronouncing names of Alaska towns and confusing reindeer and caribou, speaking throughout with mock California accents: "OK, like, caribou are, like, such awesome reindeers."
The Obama strategy may not fall so easily to that kind of mockery. The outsider staffers will rely on neighborhood supporters -- Alaskans -- to knock on doors and throw house parties. The organizers are here to recruit the locals, to manage them and to provide resources.
John McCain's Western region spokesperson, Rick Gorca said that McCain will also compete heavily in the state. Although he said it was too soon to tell what shape the campaign will take, it is in the process of hiring a state director.
"Senator McCain will carry Alaska," he said.
McHugh Pierre, an Alaska Republican Party spokesperson, agrees. The Republican Party here, he said, is "jazzed."
"It's a Republican state," he said. "Alaskans will vote for the person who most represents the values and nature of the conservative people here."
Vic Fischer, however, believes that Alaska is on the brink of a huge change. Fischer, who is 84 years old, served in the territorial House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate and helped draft the state's Constitution in the 1950s. He thinks that Alaska is ready for new vision and hope.
"[Former President] Bill Clinton talked about those things," he said. "The difference is that Barack Obama personifies them. There's going to be a lot of crossing of party lines," he said. "Many of my Republican friends say that they're going to vote for Obama."