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The Obama Ground Game In Northern Virginia


Alexandria, Virginia--For the past week, I have been a small cog in the rather large wheel of the Obama Ground Game that is stealthily rolling across the northern stretch of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, Alexandria, with a population of 140,000, has long been a bedroom community for people who work in the nation's capital. You can get a sense of the city's political inclination by a quick glance at past elections. Though the city went for Reagan in 1980, we have gone for the Democratic nominee every time since and will no doubt collectively pull the lever for Obama this time as well.

There are two Obama offices in the historic Old Town section of Alexandria, but dozens of virtual offices - organizers with and without official portfolios - are actively identifying voters in Virginia and getting them to the polls.

On Sunday, October 26, David Englin, the local Democrat who represents the city in Virginia's House of Delegates, and his wife Shayna organized a canvassing effort - "Knock and Rock" - that attracted some 300 volunteers to walk city neighborhoods.

Shayna gave me a computerized print that directed me to 36 houses in three blocks of the Del Ray section, a one-time railroad community adjacent to the huge Potomac Railyard. (The trains and tracks are long gone; in their place stands Potomac Yard Shopping Center, with Target, Best Buy, PetSmart and other big-box retailers.) I saw a number of Obama signs in the neighborhood, but few of those houses were on my list. The Obama campaign had obviously identified them as supporters and was focusing our efforts on those who had yet to indicate a presidential preference. I did meet one McCain supporter, but everyone else with whom I spoke was for Obama. I annotated my findings on the list - Obama, McCain, Not Home - and turned it in.

This was no one-time event. The Englins have been running "Knock and Rock" events several times a week over the past two months. The local Obama offices have been similarly relentless. I get several emails and calls a day to see if I can participate in one outreach event or another. Most of these calls come from Obama staff or volunteers in the city. Others come from Obama campaign workers based in non-swing states who have been assigned to put feet on the street in Virginia or put volunteers in rickety folding chairs at foldout tables full of telephones. There is nothing haphazard about the logistics driving the campaign's many volunteer efforts.

Leesburg, VA, some 40 miles south of Alexandria, claims to have the oldest and largest Halloween Parade this side of the Mississippi. Though Leesburg and surrounding Loudon County were once a reliable GOP stronghold, the rise of exurb housing developments and the influx of people from DC and the inner Virginia suburbs has been turning the county more and more blue.

That was certainly evident when Obama visited Leesburg on October 23 and drew a crowd of 15,000 in Ida Lee Park. People began lining up in the morning to clear security and gain access to the 138-acre park even though Obama was not scheduled to speak until 5:30 that afternoon.

When Sarah Palin spoke at the same park four days later, she drew 6,500.

The Halloween Parade last Friday began at Ida Lee Park. In addition to local businesses and organizations, each party had its own contingent, a mix of vehicles, floats and marchers with huge bags of candy to toss to the kids lining King Street, the main north-south artery.

The Republican group had some adults, but most of their number appeared too young to vote. (Oh, the cruelty of Republican parenthood.) Those of us in the Democratic ranks were greater in number and more diverse in age and race. If there were African-Americans in the GOP's contingent, I did not see them.

I carried a Veterans for Obama sign. Kathleen waved a small American flag and put vote cards in the open boodle bags of the kids, figuring their parents would later sort the candy and get a brief reminder of the Democratic ticket.

Along the way, many in the crowd responded to us with rhythmic cheers - "O-Ba-Ma," "Yes We Can" and "Yes We Will." I heard one man call out: "You got to change your politics." But no one booed. Several youngsters taunted: "Use your brain. Vote McCain." My inner sixth-grader wanted to retort: "Use your brain. McCain's insane." But I stifled myself.

The lawn signs along King Street seemed about evenly divided between the presidential candidates. McCain is clearly winning the Colonnade Class of the Commonwealth. Obama signs predominated among houses that likely function without staff.

Meanwhile, back in Alexandria, the Obama ground team has been getting ready for the final push. Virginia Veterans for Obama has been canvassing for votes and holding events, such as "Veterans & Military Families Rally for Obama" in nearby Fairfax two weeks before. (See my report, "How Obama is Winning Veterans.")

On Saturday, I went to my nearest Obama office - they're not really as numerous as Starbucks - and picked up a Veterans for Obama tee shirt and some signs. On Monday, along with other veterans across the region, I'll head for my local Metro station and greet commuters as they return from work.

On Tuesday, my four-door Taurus will transform into an Obama-mobile that will drive voters to the polls.

For years, the GOP was the master of the ground game. But if what I've been seeing in this part of Virginia is indicative, the Democrats have taken a page from the "Powell Doctrine" and are bringing overwhelming force to a ground game that may well swing the Commonwealth to Obama.