Obama's Texas Two-Step

02/21/2008 05:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On Friday, February 15, I received two interesting e-mails.

One was from the Clinton campaign, specifically, Bill Clinton, stating that he was going to be appearing in Lubbock, Texas, the next day, Saturday, and asking me to RSVP if I intended to attend. The e-mail arrived in my in-box at 5:40 p.m.--I know because I glanced at the clock. His appearance was scheduled at 5:45 p.m. the next day.

So, my first question was...They didn't know he was doing an appearance in Lubbock until 24 hours before?

With an ice storm swooping in from the plains, I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to a 100-mile drive until I knew for sure what the roads were going to look like in the morning. So I passed on my big chance to see the Big Dawg live and in person.

In the same cluster of messages came one from the Obama campaign. It was notifying me that they were setting up "Precinct Captain" meetings in locations all over the state, also the next day, and asked if I'd be willing to attend one and volunteer for the campaign. (No RSVP required.)

Still concerned about the upcoming storm, I visited the Precinct Captain website and to my great surprise, I found 25 meetings scheduled all over the state, including such remote locations as Matamoros way down on the border with Mexico. There were, in fact, meetings scheduled in two border communities as well as FIVE locations in San Antonio, and one all the way out in El Paso, which told me right away that the campaign was not conceding a single Hispanic vote to Hillary.

West Texas, which is almost always forgotten in national political campaigns, had meetings scheduled in Lubbock, Abilene, Midland-Odessa, and of course, El Paso.

"So this is the much-vaunted Obama ground operation," I mused.

It was impossible not to be impressed. Unlike 2004, when I couldn't find a Kerry office anywhere in the whole state, here were all these sites to choose from, and Abilene, though also about a hundred miles from here, had no ice in the forecast.

Abilene, Texas is, literally, one of the most conservative cities in the country. Back last summer, when the Obama campaign staged its "Walk for Change," I was able to find only two people signed up for the walk in Abilene--so few that the campaign didn't send any materials.

So I was more than curious to see how many people might attend an organizational meeting for the Obama campaign in Abilene.

The meeting was held in a nice hotel, in a room that seated about 25 people, but by the time I got there, all the seats were full. They sent out for more chairs, but by the time they got back, there were too many people for the extra chairs they'd brought. Finally, a small crowd stood at the rear of the room and the overflow spilled out into the corridor.

We were asked to introduce ourselves, and at least half a dozen claimed to be Republicans. "Voted straight Republican ticket for 30 years," said one volunteer. About half a dozen were black, the rest white with a few Hispanics, and they were all ages and walks of life. More than a few of us had driven at least a hundred miles to be there. One dignified African-American man, his hands resting on the shoulders of his little girl, said that he'd been in South Africa during the Nelson Mandela campaign, and that it was a thrill to be a part of another historic campaign in the United States.

The field organizer, a young man with dark circles under his eyes, talked about how they were just getting used to the size of the state and the fact that there were more than 200 counties. He gave us a power point presentation, took all our questions, and gave us a few minutes to discuss "our stories" with the person sitting next to us.

The combination primary/caucus process out here is known as the "Texas Two-Step." As volunteers, each of us would be asked to call voters from our own precinct, remind them to vote in the primary, explain how the concurrent caucus worked, and ascertain whether they'd be willing to caucus for Obama.

Barack Obama and his organization have taken the valuable skills he learned as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago, and expanded it across the whole country. I've been talking to the people on my list. The whole point is talking to voters from our own neighborhoods. Most people answer the phone because they can see a local number on the caller ID. Then I can mention where I live and who we know in common.

Having read Mayhill Fowler's excellent post, "Clinton's Texas Ground Game Plunges Into Chaos," I can say that, contrasted with what I've observed on the ground with the Obama campaign--there's a whole helluva lot of difference between conducting a campaign from the top-down, and doing one from the ground-up.

And if Obama wins the Texas Two-Step, it will be not only because he knew how to dance, but because he didn't just go out on the floor with the prom queen. He reached out his hand to all those people standing around in the shadows, listening to the music, and wondering how it would feel to be a part of it all.