Lori Jewett is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.
Living in a primarily Republican suburb in a primarily Democratic county in the swing state of Pennsylvania provides me with an oftentimes confusing, sometimes annoying, but always interesting, perspective on the presidential election. I'm finding that there are surprises around every corner, but that in the end, this state (or at least my corner of it) will likely swing in Obama's direction. The reason? Enthusiasm.
Our local campaign office is constantly buzzing with activity; a dozen people or more making calls, handing out yard signs, helping to fill out absentee ballots. By contrast, the McCain office down the street rarely has more than one or two volunteers wandering listlessly through their empty rooms. It almost makes me feel sorry for them.
As a first-time campaign volunteer, I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the office and the youthful exuberance I see there and, I don't mind admitting that I've been feeling quite proud of myself lately. But my feeling of pride for my own commitment and volunteer activity has quickly paled as I have met volunteer after volunteer who has traveled for hours, often from out of state, to canvass the local neighborhoods. Out-of-staters also flooded in to help staff yesterday's Scranton rally featuring Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Many of these dedicated individuals have visited repeatedly over the past few weeks, staying in hotels at their own expense, to drum up support in my area.
The enthusiasm doesn't stop with the volunteers though. Working the parking lot at yesterday's rally (ah yes, the glamorous work of the campaign volunteer), I witnessed the depth of the enthusiasm in the out-of-state license plates and the weary but excited faces of those who have traveled for hours and often across state lines to show their support. As I watched the cars stream in, I was also pleased to see the variety; fifteen-year-old vans with peeling paint and shiny new luxury SUV's; energetic young faces and wrinkled old ones; whites, Hispanics and African-Americans; college professors, housewives, doctors and "lunch-ladies"; the able-bodied and the disabled.
As I watched elderly people with walkers and wheelchairs struggle across that parking lot and the busy roadway to wait on that impossibly long-line of supporters, it occurred to me that Barack Obama has far broader appeal and more dedicated supporters than I had ever suspected he might. And, as I saw so many African-Americans flooding into our predominantly white community, I couldn't help but feel my throat tighten and tears spring up as I saw the broad smiles and the pride and hope in their faces. And while I noticed maybe four or five lost souls carrying their McCain/Palin signs and pacing back and forth near the stop light in protest, the enthusiasm of the cheering Obama/Biden supporters crammed inside the arena simply dwarfed them.
The difference in enthusiasm between the Obama and McCain supporters has been abundantly clear in the conversations I've had over the past week while phone-banking as well. Only a couple of people to whom I have spoken are leaning towards McCain and one of them was more than willing to let me try to change his mind. On the other hand, the vast majority of supposedly undecided voters I contacted cut me off mid-sentence and assured me that I needn't worry about them, they were for Obama all the way. In fact, many of those who had decided to support Obama not only assured me of their vote but were often eager to tell me all of the many reasons they had for their choice . . . often at great length!
Some of the most rabid Obama fans were, in fact, the members of my community whom I had previously discounted. These were the folks that I was sure would vote McCain. To my surprise, I found that the older, mostly white members of my mostly white community (many of whom are known for hanging on to outdated, racist stereotypes and attitudes), were not just willing to consider Barack Obama for the office of President but were, in fact, enthusiastically and unequivocally supporting him. Who knew?
It turns out that my disappointment in my seemingly smart and sophisticated friends and neighbors who have chosen to support McCain based on misunderstandings and misinformation has been more than made up for by my pleasure at finding so much love and support for Obama amongst those from whom I'd least expected it. One of the supporters whom I will never likely forget is a woman in her late sixties who lives in a senior citizen high-rise nearby. She had told me that while she would love to volunteer for the campaign, she didn't feel that she could.
She's had two strokes in the last four years and has had to relearn how to talk and walk and still has trouble getting around. Concerned that she might not be able to get to the polls come election day, I asked her if she would need a ride or some assistance. She assured me that "No, no, I'll get there. I vote at the firehouse right next store. The only thing that might get in the way is if I get sick or something." Then she quickly and emphatically assured me, "Don't you worry though, I'll still get there even if I have to crawl the whole way. Nothing is going to stop me from casting my vote.""
I haven't heard that kind of dedication or enthusiasm from any of the McCain/Palin supporters to whom I have spoken. And I believe that the lack of it speaks volumes. Enthusiasm matters. It's what gets you off the couch and to the polls on election day . . . even if you have to crawl there. In the end, will enthusiasm make the difference? I believe it will. You betcha.
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