Many of my LA friends and neighbors are in swing states right now, going door to door for Barack Obama. (Even my pal, notorious campaign curmudgeon and Huff Post Off The Bus editor, is in Nevada canvassing.)
For a variety of reasons, however, I am compelled to remain in California.
So instead of door knocking, I've spent all my spare moments in the last few days dialing prospective voters. My swing state of choice for these chipper-voiced human robo calls is the three-electoral vote state of Montana, which used to be a red state, then last week it turned pink. Now it's white (or yellow, depending upon the color-coded map you favor).
Yeah, yeah, Ohio or Pennsylvania or Florida are a lot more important from an electoral college perspective, but I know Montana. My mother was raised there. My republican grandfather was a state senator. My parents dragged my brother and me to the Big Sky state almost every summer of our collective childhood, and I brought my own son to fish and float the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in West Glacier, Montana, nearly every August since before he could walk.
So when I use the positively brilliantly-designed voter-calling software at MyBarackObama.com, to make my calls to Great Falls or Butte or Helena or Kalispell, I can picture the place. Plus I'm familiar with Montanan's concerns. In the course of my calls, I've had conversations about Obama's stand on gun rights and, with one college football fan, I did my best to converse about the merits of rooting for the U of Montana Grizzlies, who are second ranked behind those irritating Weber State Wildcats.
But, although most I dialed already had their candidate in mind, I have run into several honest-to-goodness undecideds, and even turned one, that I know of. In truth, she was just looking for someone to give her a light tap in the Obama direction, which I helpfully provided. ("So-o-o-ooo, let's talk about what you like and don't like about both candidates, okay?" You alright with that?" I said in my friendliest Mrs. Rogers voice. Yes, she said, she was, alright with it.)
Whatever the leanings of those who picked up the phone, I have found many of these stranger-to-stranger conversations to be weirdly touching. Americans are, at heart a decent and sensible people, a fact that these calls have verified for me over and over.
A few examples:
Today, I spoke to a 50-something woman, who lives with her husband in Billings Montana. "We're lifelong Republicans," she said, "but we've already voted, and we voted for Obama." I asked her what convinced her to switch. "Well, frankly, usually, we think Democrats tend to overspend on social programs," she said, and she explained that she worked for social services where she felt she saw lots of abuse of public assistance. "But right now the country's in such a mess...We just need a change. So we voted for the man, not the party."
Was it hard to cross over? I asked. "Not at all," she said. "The choice is pretty clear."
I thought so too, I said. We wished each other luck. And I hung up.
A few calls later, I spoke to 80-year old Ruth who lives in Libby, Montana, which means she's surrounded by hardcore McCain people, she said. Ruth told me she was on the fence for months and months until she heard Maya Angelou being interviewed on the subject of presidential candidates. And in listening to Angelou, somehow she just "got it," Ruth said, that Obama cared about the Americans that most other politicians seemed barely to notice. And she also felt good about voting for the candidate that was giving hope to young people the age of her grand kids. "It feels like the right thing to do,," she said.
So was she sure of her vote? I asked, or still a little wobbly?
"No I'm sure," Ruth said. "Once I saw it, I saw it. I want the young people to feel like they have hope."
Me too, I said.