Last week I was contacted by NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) about covering my Republicans for Obama activities. They have a worldwide viewership of 100 million people. Despite how nervous that made me, I accepted. What I did not know is we'd spend hours together each day for three days. This is the journal of my experiences, as well as my coverage of activities I participated in.
We first met at the Indianapolis Campaign for Change rally in Indianapolis on October 23rd. I was able to get press credentials as a HuffPost's OffTheBus citizen journalist, which helped us find each other in an area separate from the 36,000 people who attended the rally. It was a surprise opportunity, as Senator Obama changed his schedule to stop in Indianapolis, only fifteen days after his previous appearance here, on his way to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii.
After the event, I worked my way into the crowd to ask a few questions. My first interview was with a family from Johnson County, Indiana; Sherri McIntosh, a lifelong Democrat, and her sons Tyler McIntosh (18) and Jordan McIntosh (14), plus friend Kathleen Cunningham (19) (see photo in above photo gallery). Sherri's husband, a member of the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, could not attend because he had to work. This was their first time seeing Obama in person, and they all believed Obama would win Indiana.
Sherri McIntosh, Kathleen Cunningham, Tyler McIntosh, Jordan McIntosh
This is Tyler's first chance to vote in an election, so he's waiting until November 4th to "see what it's like on actual election day," instead of early voting. I asked for comments on the event and Tyler responded, "I love his personality. I think he's a real down-to-earth type of guy and he really showed that in his speech." Sherri said, "the only negative thing I had was the teleprompters were right in front of his face so we really couldn't see him, but just to be here, I called my husband and put the phone up in the air and he got to hear part of the speech, so that was really exciting for him. He wanted to make sure that Ty and Jordan got a chance to come here because this might be their only chance to [see] the next President of the United States."
I then met volunteer Vanessa Hampton who was working at the event. She'd been volunteering for the campaign for three months. "I've been making phone calls, canvassing, going door to door of course, providing meals for volunteers, recruiting other volunteers," said Hampton. "She's an all star," said nearby volunteer, Ashley Williams. Both Hampton and Williams work out of the Warren Township office, which just opened the previous Friday. I asked why they opened this new office so close to the election. Hampton said, "Warren Township... there were a huge number of new registrations in that area and it's important that we are in the neighborhood." Since the new office does not have phones or Internet yet, and they've had over 1,200 people inquire about volunteering there, they've been trading off using cell phones for calls and going to Starbucks for Internet connections.
When just about everyone was gone, the NHK crew interviewed me with the speaker platform behind me. We then arranged for them to come to my house the next day for a more in-depth interview. I had a hard evening of cleanup to do before my wife would let me allow television cameras in the house!
Friday afternoon, NHK producer Takeshi Yamasaki, correspondent Akiko Ichihara, and camera man Rob (I never got his last name) arrived. The setup, interview, and set-up shots (like me working on my computer) took about 3 hours. After all my American media interviews about my Republican for Obama work, I was amazed at how insightful, probing and deep their questions were.
I asked Ichihara a few questions about her experiences covering the campaigns and the viewpoints of the Japanese people.
Lasker: "Why do you think there is such an interest in this campaign in Japan?"
Ichihara: "I think we understand that this is an historical election. I'm based in Tokyo. I came to the United States from April to June to cover the primary. This time I came from September and I'll stay through the election to cover the campaign. And, even in the primary, Japan was interested in the results, because it was a long process, and it was so exciting."
Lasker: "Do you see it as historical because Obama is African-American?"
Ichihara: "Yes, and also we can hear that the number of people that are registered to vote is a historical number so we hear that most American people are joining the process, so it's historical as well."
Lasker: "Is there an opinion there as to who is the better candidate?"
Ichihara: "I've heard that people who are in business or economics or commerce kind of favor a Republican president because we experienced a kind of Japan passing under the Clinton administration. But, I think, in general, Senator Obama is more popular, and also the Gallup polls show not only Japan but other foreign countries he's more popular."
Lasker: "When Obama makes a speech, he'll say things like, 'we need to stop shipping jobs overseas' and he'll list Japan sometimes. Is that seen as a negative over there or worry anybody?"
Ichihara: "I don't think so. We hear that he says we should make hybrid cars not in Japan but we should make them domestic, but we don't see that as a negative impression to Japanese people."
Lasker: "I have read that the media is treated better by the McCain campaign than the Obama campaign. Have you noticed that, as far as being more accommodating?"
Ichihara: "For me, I don't see the difference so far. I think both campaigns treat us in a good way." [NHK producer Yamasaki walked by nodding his head, and said, "yes, a big difference."]
Lasker: "NHK has many teams covering this election, pretty serious coverage."
Ichihara: "Yes, because for Japan, the United States is our most important ally, for the economy and also diplomacy, so we are very interested in who will be the next president, and which course the country takes."
The adventure was not over. The next day began with NHK covering me and my wife, Sharon, canvassing for the Fishers, Indiana, Obama campaign office.
Since we had a news crew following us, we asked for a smaller canvassing packet, the list of names and addresses of people to visit each volunteer gets. At this stage, canvassers are only going to the homes of known Obama supporters to encourage early voting and give voting information, instead of trying to convince people to change their minds. We got about 15 minutes of training and some materials, and we were on the road.
The first house turned out to be another volunteer that we had met at a previous event. That made the job pretty easy. The next two houses had people home, but they didn't answer the door. It might have been intimidating to see two people with a clipboard and a Japanese news crew complete with camera and boom mic knocking on their door in an Indiana suburb on a Saturday morning.
Later, we met up at the Barack-the-Block Early Voting Party being held across the street from our county courthouse to encourage early voting. The NHK crew was given permission to go inside the courthouse to film, and then interviewed early voters on their way out.
The NHK left the party early so they could drive to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to cover Sarah Palin's visit that evening. I stayed only for an hour because it was 45 degrees and cloudy, so my light jacket was not doing the job of keeping me warm. Even with the weather there was a two hour wait for early voting, showing a massive turnout for our small county. By the time I left, I estimate about 100 people had come to the party. It was smiles all around as the polls showed that morning that Obama was 10 points up over McCain even in "red state" Indiana. Needless to say, volunteers and supporters were jubilant. Personally, I was just exhausted!
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