In the quintessential town of Keene, New Hampshire, volunteers waved as cars honked in support while standing on the picturesque Village Common, hoisting Obama sign poles. Like the traffic circling the green, people came in waves to stand and wave, replacing those who started out earlier in the day. Groups of happy people including families wheeling strollers made a day of volunteering for candidates Barack Obama, Jeanne Shaheen and Paul Hodes. As the days tighten, nothing is being taken for granted and all stops are out to get out the vote.
Central Square is home turf to the Soldier's Monument, an ornate Victorian Gazebo and a bandstand that hosts town events throughout the year and during political season, a mandatory destination photo-op for each candidate with the requisite backdrop of stately church steeple and tree lined green. Standing with a sign was Obama supporter June Donegan of Keene who explained that she has been making calls when not knocking on doors and repeatedly she found there were a surprisingly high number of older voters who were positive for McCain until he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Her own sister-in-law, a registered Republican has switched her vote to Obama after Palin's addition to McCain's ticket; she also received 4 Obama canvassed visits without from McCain.
Are the people of New Hampshire wary of all the attention they get during a presidential year? Donegan said, no, because they start so early and there are expectations that they each have a chance to meet every candidate. There is also a sense of pride the community takes as a whole that they have a unique opportunity as the beachhead of politics, not to mention the process helps the economy.
Amongst the estimated 500 volunteers that processed in and out of Obama's Keene headquarters Saturday, dozens of College Democrats as part of Campus Invasion from Keene State University, Yale University and Smith College and others participated in visibility events, canvassing, get out the vote, making calls and following up to previous calls and door knocks.
What motivates them to give up a night of drinking to walk miles on for Obama and others? "We are the young legs the party is counting on."- Julia Reed, 21, Smith College on why Smith's College Dems are sending 7 to 21 people on weekends to New Hampshire and Pennsylvania from the start of the Fall Semester through Election Day.
Does having College Democrats involved make a difference? In participating in coordinated efforts at a grassroots level, Smith's Sara Mueller, 20 estimates that they knocked on 450 Keene area doors, working with local and out of state volunteers, while back at Smith they made 1,000 calls to New Hampshire residents. In 2006 UCONN College Dems made the difference in helping Congressman Joe Courtney unseat the incumbent Republican. Yes, these foot soldiers make a difference and are cherished by candidates for their level of dedication and enthusiasm.
From Yale's Tanya Fridland, "The Yale College Democrats are part of a coalition of multiple groups at Yale called Yale for Change, which has been hosting Obama phone banks three days a week as well as Saturday canvasses every weekend to Pennsylvania and New Hampshire for Senator Obama since the beginning of the year. We have also been campaigning for Congressional candidate Jim Himes (CT-4) in Connecticut with Saturday canvasses and phone-banks, which are now five days per week. In addition to campaigning, we have been registering voters here at Yale for voting either in Connecticut or in their home states. On Election Day weekend, we will have students staying in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the weekend (Saturday, Sunday, and an optional Monday) as well as students going for day-long canvasses in New Hampshire on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday, we will send students in shifts to canvass for Jim Himes. On all four days (Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues.) there will be phone banking for Senator Obama from for the entire day. On Election Day, we will also be doing GOTV on campus and the majority of our membership will be making calls all day."
Barack Obama's reminder eleven months after the torturous NH primary that had polls showing Obama leading by 9 points only to watch it evaporate to Hillary Clinton continues to be the focus in the last days before Tuesday. The October 30th, Suffolk University/ 7 News Poll shows Obama leading McCain by 13 points in New Hampshire, capturing all segments of the population. The chase is after those undeclared voters who make up the majority of the 865,000 + registered voters. * January 8th's primary brought more than 529,000 voters out; both camps are working to increase the turnout by canvassing, calling and advertisements.
A quick visit the Keene, NH McCain office in the late afternoon showed a stark contrast between the two camps, with Obama's volunteers continued to rotate in and out while McCain's office was very quiet with two very kind volunteers telling me I should have come earlier. There were few volunteers evident at the high traffic areas, except for a group of 10 students (woman in long skirts, head pieces) from Fairwood Bible Institute, and their teachers had staked out each corner shouting "McCain is the Truth."
As high as expectations are for Obama's sweep, there is also concern on the "What ifs..." and for now, all attention is being paid on getting the voters out to the polls and hoping the hard work will pay off.
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