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Hilary Lambert

Hilary Lambert

Posted: November 4, 2008 11:42 AM

Messages from the Obama Campaign Nerve Center


"Ohio is the tip of the spear!" That's the kickoff phrase of the Obama campaign's Red, White and Blue Teams Volunteer packets, containing instructions for the hundreds of Obama campaign workers who Tuesday are hunkering down at Staging Locations across Ohio: "These staging locations are the spaces that will serve as the nerve center of the action up to and on Election Day." White Team: Logistics, volunteer management, food, and transport. Blue Team: Voter contact operations, canvassing and calling. Red Team: Polling site operations, report voter numbers, and "manage any problems that might arise."

At 11:30 p.m. on November 3rd, I got a call from my 21 year old son Oliver Renwick, head of the Red Team for three polling places in the neighborhoods around Ohio State University. His staging location is the Kafé Kerouac on Columbus's North High Street. His voice was filled with suspenseful excitement and good humor, and I could hear the crunch of leaves underfoot.

"I'm out near High Street, looking for signs of voter suppression!" (crunch, crunch). "What form might that suppression take?" I asked, envisioning the quiet student and faculty neighborhoods, and he replied, "They found or heard about a leaflet telling Democrats that they have to vote on Wednesday. So things like that. Although someone did say that if the GOP is smart, they'll do that at 3 a.m."

"You'd find those when you go back in tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah. I'm heading back to the Kafé Kerouac at 4 a.m."

Oliver's manner changed as he spoke, from son to mom into hardened campaign worker: "I've got two good line workers for the morning. They're the ones who stand outside the polling places and give people food and water and encourage them to stay if the lines are long. We didn't get our final assignments from the state Obama people until 5 p.m. today, so it got sort of hassled. But we're ready, our team is set. Locked. We're at ramming speed."

"What kinds of problems do you anticipate?"

"Did you hear about the attorneys? They hired four thousand attorneys to be at Ohio polling locations." He and his partner paused to root around in the leaves to extricate a suspicious item - of no interest. "We'll have an attorney at my targeted polling place."

"Why is it targeted?"

"There were problems in '04 - the long lines." (I have a strange feeling that I remember reading about that polling place!) "On average the wait in line tomorrow, at least in Ohio, will be three hours."

"Yeah, people still think they can just run over to vote after work, but they're in for a nasty shock."

He picked up the pace: "I worked on the campaign all day today, but got my logic homework in and went to my class and a lab. We had to find boxes to put supplies in, you know? So we cruised Kinko's, the liquor stores - I was shocked, no boxes there - and found a few mangy boxes out back of the Kroger at the recycling bins. Then a girl said, "Aldi's!" We got 14 boxes there. She sure knew a lot about Aldi's. Then I had to give the car keys back, I was in a maniac state, I said someone would get hurt if I kept driving."

Oliver was getting revved up. "You know they (Republicans) went out and did chalking on the campus - they drew the Obama rising suns and put hammers and sickles in them and wrote, 'Obamanism' next to them, I guess it was supposed to be like 'communism', so our guys went along after them, and erased the hammers and sickles and wiped off the 'nism.'"

I said worriedly, "So how are you all doing? How's Morgan (volunteer coordinator for the OSU campaign office) holding up?"

"Well, today the state guy said to Morgan, 'We're counting on you to win the election!' Oliver giggled to indicate the sheer mad craziness of laying this charge totally on Morgan's shoulders. "And on her way in this morning, she stopped at a light and a toothless black guy, homeless, began pounding on the windshield, shouting at her, 'You've got to win this for Obama! Be sure to vote!'"

"Is Morgan still sane, at this point?"

He knew what I meant. "This morning, in a meeting, she said, 'Don't f**k with the lines of communications!' and then she said it again, 'They are all-important to our winning - so don't f**k with the lines of communications!' She had her Kill face on, and we laughed into our shirts so she wouldn't see us. But, yeah!"

Oliver crunched off into the night, to get a few hours sleep. On Tuesday he will be sitting at the Staging Location next to his supervisor, surrounded by the team that has for so long been preparing for this day. He'll head to the polling locations if needed to deal with "problems," and he has scheduled tasks to perform at 5:30 am, 5:45, 6, 6:30, 9, 10, 10:30, 2:00 pm, 2:30, 3:30, 4:00, 7:15; and at 7.30 the polls will close and final voter tallies will need to be submitted. That's if everything goes smoothly.

Like the Red Team Volunteer pamphlet says, "You are in the ultimate battleground."