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Off The Bus

Off The Bus

Posted October 31, 2008 | 05:22 PM (EST)

Just Days Away, Arizona is Nearly Blue: Could This Be Tennessee All Over Again?


by Sarah Moglewer, Marlene H. Phillips and Auburn McCanta

It is amazing how John McCain's very red home state has turned a deep purple in just four short years - and with any luck, will be electric blue by Election Day. According to the latest polls released one week before the election, Obama is behind by only two points!

When Al Gore ran in 2000, he didn't pay attention to his own home state of Tennessee and he paid dearly for it by suffering an embarrassing loss to George Bush. Figuring Tennessee was a lock Gore didn't send money or hire experts to assure a win in his own backyard. It was a hard lesson learned and it seems John McCain was absent that day in school. The mistakes Gore made in his home state have this year been repeated by the absent and underrepresented McCain.

Seizing on this opening, the volunteers for Barack Obama are turning the red tide in Arizona. A mathematical phrase often heard in the northern town of Flagstaff is: "Arizona equals Obama's Tennessee."

Hundreds of Arizona Obama volunteers are covering the state and working day and night to turn Arizona from red to blue. Arizona Democratic Party spokesperson, Emily DeRose, says, "We have many volunteers working on the phones, canvassing people door to door, and talking to everyone that they can. We are getting our message out."

In Northern Arizona, with its small rustic towns and conservative history, volunteer, Matt Capalby, is a living example of DeRose's message. He worked for Governor Napolitano as Northern Arizona Director during her 2006 campaign and speaks now of campaigning for Barack Obama:

The level of activism of this campaign is wonderful. We now have Democratic Mayors in Prescott and Sedona. We have students who come in during their lunch hour and after school - and many can't even vote. We have businessmen bringing food, and this at a time of poor economics. We have many retired folks. It is a wonderful time to be a Democrat in Arizona. We have college professors and students working side-by-side. In February at Obama's speech at the Phoenix Memorial Coliseum, I noticed a woman at the front desk after the rally. She was crying. I asked her why and she told me "I haven't seen passion like this since 40 years ago. We were at the Ambassador Hotel to see Bobby Kennedy. Today, Obama was very inspiring."
Capalby pauses to reflect, then continues,
Any function we have, whether it is sign waving or phone banking, we get huge numbers of people. We have 75 full time, active volunteers in Flagstaff. Sholo and Pinetop have 25 volunteers; Bullhead City (a union town) has 35; Kingman, 25. Even Lake Havasu City, a very Republican town, has 20-25 consistent volunteers. As a 3rd generation North Arizonan who's been involved for most of my adult life in politics, I have not seen this level of motivation, energy and enthusiasm by so many people, in all walks of life ... to be this excited in a presidential candidate.

Obama and MoveOn volunteer, Elizabeth DeWolfe says, "I'm a socially conscious person and I believe that the individual has been lost by corporate America. It's time for each of us to count. Our diversity is our strength."

A small group chats about the nature of volunteerism in this manner:

The way we, as volunteers are able to count is to get old and young to the polls. We need to get the message out through our volunteerism, and to follow the Constitution. When big business runs the country, with disdain for the founders of the Constitution, and then we must stop, and think - what do we want for our country? Are we going to continue allowing big business control over us, or are we going to say "NO?" This is our country and we are taking it back. This is what many volunteers seem to feel, and is why they are working so hard to get Obama in the White House. Many feel that McCain would follow the same road as Bush.

Phoenix, nicknamed the Valley of the Sun, is referred to by its Obama volunteers as the "Valley of That One." Last weekend, 60 volunteers excitedly jumped in their cars and caravanned to New Mexico to help out Arizona's neighboring state. One gentleman returned early Monday morning, worked a full day at his regular job, and then insisted on returning that evening to work more at the Obama Phoenix headquarters.

Also last weekend, the Women for Obama and the ASU Young Democrats organized a rally at Arizona State University. An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people gathered in front of Hayden Library, each participant given a blue glow-light. After the rally, world-famous trumpeter, Jesse McGuire, led a unity procession of a thousand symbolic blue lights across the University Avenue Bridge.

Phoenix volunteer, Mike Leyva, is encouraged by Obama's rising Arizona poll numbers, but he stays realistic. "We're not resting," he says. "This is a no gloating zone."

Leyva is emblematic of Arizona's articulate and passionate Obama devotees. He works tireless hours, even involving his wife, daughter and 74-year old mother. He's convinced that volunteers are the key.

We have 200 to300 volunteers a week - people are taking next Tuesday off to serve as drivers to help people get to the polls. In our downtown office, we have standing room only on weekends. Even at this late date, campaign materials are still flying out the door. One Native American woman made her husband drive her three and a half hours from Tuba City to Phoenix so she could get an Obama yard sign. She hugged the sign to her chest and started to cry, saying she can't wait to tell her people about Obama. We're an incredibly diverse group of people. We're black and white, young and senior, working side-by-side without difference. At the end of the day, we're just an exhausted, happy group. It's been a generation since we've been inspired to make a difference ... and we will make a difference. Each is touched differently, but we're touched nonetheless. This transcends everything and everyone. I believe this really red state is very, very close to being blue.

To the south of Phoenix, Tucson volunteers are determined to pull John McCain's state into the Obama column, and as they make calls and canvass door to door, they're just as enthusiastic and committed as their brethren across the state. Volunteer Jill Schneider says she hasn't volunteered for a political campaign since George McGovern, yet she's been in the Northwest Democratic office phoning voters day after day for months. "You feel like you're contributing to something important, and there's too much at stake this year to sit on the sidelines. I tell my friends, hey, you can't complain unless you contribute!" In the hundreds and hundreds of phone calls she's made, she's talked to many Independents, and since she considers herself an Independent these are the calls she remembers most.

They say things like 'I've always voted Republican, but not this year.' I've never gotten the sense that there's been overwhelming support for McCain among Independents. And when I tell them I'm a Democrat they're OK with talking to me...they might be hostile to the calling itself but never to our candidate.

The Northwest Democratic office has been a lively and busy place, and Schneider's been enjoying the bustling atmosphere. "I love coming in here. It's energizing. And it's fun being among so many different people who share your views."

Up at the front desk Bruce Slabaugh answers the constantly ringing phone while greeting walk-in visitors looking to volunteer or purchase Obama material. Slabaugh has lived in Tucson for 25 years, and is happily shocked at the changes he sees in the Arizona political picture. "If you'd said to me that we'd have Democrats elected in our legislative district here (LD26) I would have laughed at you! It's been a long time coming, but I'm glad to see the shift." Slabaugh is a proud union man, and supporting unions and the middle class is a big reason he's working to elect Barack Obama.

The fall of the middle class and the fall of union membership are directly related. Republicans since Ronald Reagan have made no bones about the fact that they are anti-labor. What's that old saying, 'by their actions, so shall ye know them?' Well, when it comes to supporting the middle class, I judge Republicans by their actions.

Slabaugh has been volunteering for the Democratic party actively since 1992; this year he thinks Obama's success is partly due to the dedication of volunteers. "At the heart of every successful campaign are the volunteers. And this year Obama's volunteers care so much, it's just great to see."

Here's another example of that enthusiasm: volunteers Joan Wendell and Francine Shacter came up with their own unique way to keep their fellow volunteers happy in the last days of this very long campaign. The two retirees quietly asked friends to contribute to a raffle for volunteers; every time a volunteer completes a shift, they get an entry in the raffle. So far they have eight prizes, including an original watercolor painting, quilt wall hanging, gift cards, jewelry, and more. Winners will be notified, fittingly, on election day.