On Saturday October 13, Barack Obama's presidential campaign organized "Canvass for Change," a grassroots mobilization in neighborhoods around the country. We recruited OffTheBus members to gather stories and observations from those events. The reports below were used by Mayhill Fowler for her piece, "Reporting The Obama Campaign Coast-to-Coast: Democrats More Undecided Than Polls Suggest," which OffTheBus published today.
The reports below were submitted Sunday, October 14.
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Reporter: Kelly Nuxoll
Event location: Berkeley, CA
Registered Attendees: 26
Organization rating: well organized
Event description: Great organization -- coffee, bagels, and water set up in the park. Organizers introduced themselves and did a role play. Pamphlets were divided into grocery bags and teams of 2 were supplied with clipboards and walk lists. The data in the walk lists could've been cleaner -- ours was organized alphabetically instead of geographically -- and there were a few small things that could've been done to make it more of a no-brainer for volunteers, but the planning, presentation, support, and follow-up was very smooth.
How receptive were people were to B. Obama's message against the war? Canvassing was an incredibly positive experience. With one or two exceptions, everybody who opened the door was friendly, receptive to the idea of a canvasser, and interested in more information. A few people were already big Obama supporters and were eager to chat about how much they liked him. The war seemed nominally an issue, but social issues, health care, and Obama as a positive representative of America also came up a lot. Interestingly, without any prompting, 3 of the 4 yesses mentioned they'd accept Clinton as a second choice.
What happened at the event? Volunteers gathered at a park in a mixed neighborhood in Berkeley. Most houses are single occupancy, single story, built early- to mid-20th century. Many occupants seem to be elderly -- 80+ years. About three quarters of people I spoke to were African-American. Some families were Spanish-speaking. The neighborhood also seems to have some young white families and students. Anyway, volunteer coordinators introduced themselves, led the group in a few cheers, role played a canvassing conversation, asked us to team up, and sent us in pairs to visit around 100 houses. My partner and I knocked on doors and left flyers where no one was home.
Who attended the event? Volunteers also mixed. 50/50 male/female. About one-fourth African-American. Age range looked to be early twenties to late sixties. A man was videotaping to put up footage on Obama website -- a volunteer citizen videographer for Obama. The organizer, Lisa, was dynamite: energetic, fun, clear, enthusiastic, informed, organized.
Please describe the mood of supporters after the canvass: cautiously optimistic
Overall take: The best part of canvassing was talking to ordinary folks not affiliated with the campaign. It was downright inspiring. Most people seemed not only aware of the issues and the candidates, but prepared to speak on them with insight and personal reflection. One man (not on my list) was sitting on his porch finishing off Alan Greenspan's book. The overall level of political engagement among the people I spoke to was surprising and thrilling.
Reporter: Ethan Hova
Event location: Studio City, LA
Event description: A number of district directors and volunteer leaders showed up - many of them had been to the training session at Camp Obama and were quite good at motivating the new volunteers to canvass for three hours.
How receptive people were to B. Obama's message against the war? Those that were undecided about who to support in the primary seemed reluctant to make any statements for or against Barack; they would listen politely, take our literature, and promise to read it before forming an opinion on who to vote for. Those who had already decided to support Barack were extremely receptive, but seemed like they wanted to talk about his campaign's failure to surge in the polls rather than the speech he gave five years ago against the war. To my surprise, no one expressed fatigue at the repeated message that Barack was the only candidate against the war from the beginning - in the case that that argument was presented, we were instructed to provide the voter with a copy of Barack's speech and ask if they had ever actually read it. Having read the speech for the first time today myself, I judged this argument incredibly effective and was very sorry I didn't get to use it on anyone.
What happened at the event? I arrived half an hour late, having stubbornly refused to MapQuest the address of the park we were meeting at, and missed the opening training session. My canvassing partner, Christine, gave me a crash course and explained exactly what it was we were there to do. We were to tell the voters that we were there representing the Obama campaign and that we wanted to talk to them about his early opposition to the war. If they indicated support for Obama, we would ask them to fill out a pledge card promising to support Barack in the primary. If they were undecided we were to leave them literature and return in a few weeks. If they were leaning towards another candidate we weren't supposed to put up much of a fight before saying "Thank you for your time" and moving on - our community organizer told us to focus more on the undecided and decidedly Barack-centric voters. We were told to talk about our personal reasons for supporting Obama, and "real" conversations with the voters about the issues important to them were definitely what we were going for. I was shocked that not a single voter we talked to indicated support for any candidate other than Obama. Either they were for him or they were utterly undecided. This was a fairly affluent suburb north of Los Angeles and I was really surprised to not find a single Hillary supporter in the neighborhood.
Who attended the event? There were three women and roughly seven men. The ages ranged from those in their mid twenties to early forties and there was a healthy smattering of diversity within the group. Three of the volunteers were new to political volunteering and about four of the volunteers were devoted activists that had been to Camp Obama for training in community organizing. All of them were incredibly enthusiastic, conversational, and thrilled to be canvassing for Obama.
Overall take: Overall, I was shocked that not one registered Democrat we talked to expressed support for Hillary or Edwards. The vast majority of voters were very much undecided and expressed reluctance to engage in debate without conducting research on their own. That said, everyone seemed hungry to learn more about Obama - one voter even invited us in to discuss Obama's platform over a cup of coffee. Our conversations tended to be more personal and honest than I expected - we were expected to deviate heavily from the script we were given and no one told us to push an official party line on any one issue. We encountered several households of fervent Obama supporters and their mood could be summed up as frustrated. They seemed mostly concerned about his perceived lack of traction in the polls, though the very presence of Obama campaigners at their door conveyed a message of solidarity and perseverance I think encouraged most voters. A lot of people asked if we thought Gore would enter the race, and several voters expressed a desire to see a Gore-Obama ticket. "Obama-Gore," my canvassing partner retorted to one discouraged Obama fan, only half-joking. By the end of our conversation, we got her to fill out a pledge form promising to vote for Barack.
Reporter: Christine Escobar
Event location: Dubuque, Iowa
Organization rating: well organized
Event description: Volunteers had neighborhood maps, lists of potential caucus goers' names, ages and addresses ready and in hand as they walked.
How receptive people were to B. Obama's message against the war? Only viewed one 25 year old woman responding to the war message. Lots of no answers when the doorbells were rung. It was late afternoon.
What happened at the event? Volunteers canvassed Dubuque neigborhoods on foot with flyers, sign up cards and knocked on doors and rang doorbells to talk with people about their plans to caucus or not and their thoughts on supporting Sen. Obama at the caucuses.
Who attended the event? The two ladies I were from the suburbs of Chicago and one appeared to be in her late 30's and the other appeared to be in her 50's. They are both working full time and are caucasian. Both have been volunteering since summer with the Obama campaign.
Overall take: Though it was late afternoon, the 2 volunteers I met in Dubuque were surprisingly upbeat after having "hiked" up and down several steep hills and braved the startlingly loud barking of several large neighborhood dogs. Throughout their conversations with voters, they displayed a great amount of dedication to spreading the word on the Iowa caucuses and how to caucus for Obama, as well as his position to vote against the Iraq War years ago. The national campaign has been stressing this aspect of Barack Obama's positioning on the war, calling it "tough choices" in the campaign literature for Iowa. It seems to be the current message that the campaign and supporters want voters to understand at this point in the race. This message differentiates the senator from Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, but the Obama campaign also appears to be tying it into the argument that Obama is truly experienced enough to lead, using his early position on Iraq as an example of his boldness. Case in point: The first words at the top of the Obama's Iowa sign-up and information brochure are: "You can tell a lot about leaders by the choices they make."
Reporter: Deborah Plummer
Event location: Manhattan, Kansas
Organization rating: well organized
Event description: Terrible rain showers/storms happened in our NE KS area starting in the early morning hours and continuing through the late morning hours, which dampened attendance. My guess is there was a lot of flooding. Additionally, a football game was scheduled for later that evening.
What happened at the event? Even though the event was cancelled (but will be re-scheduled), I was able to meet/listen to Obama's representative from KSU and his KS Caucus Coordinator, Bob Schmuck. I was impressed and moved by the amount of knowledge and passion the two young men have for Obama and the strength and determination they bring to his campaign. Even more endearing (to someone who has worked in public education for 26 years), is their non-partisan outreach to the young folks, 17-18 year olds. Reaching them through their civics/government classes and offering information about the political process is a great idea.
Who attended the event? Both of Obama's representatives seemed young but at 55, everyone who "seems" under 40, seems young. Diverse? It's Manhattan KANSAS - not Manhattan NEW YORK. :) :) I was super impressed with the number of potential volunteers (20) they had expected for this event! I agree with them, Obama has sparked a light in young people; some are more attuned to the political process for the first time, while others have actually joined a political campaign, often, Obama's.
Overall take: Even though the Obama event was canceled, I was able to gain more information about Obama and future plans (i.e . caucus training) from his team. I was inspired by their knowledge and compassion for their candidate and appreciative of their time and effort toward Obama's campaign. Also impressive was the number of potential volunteers, 20. Manhattan is not known for it's liberalism nor it's "multi-culturalism." In the "Little Apple" there are still some remaining threads of simmering distrusts and hatreds just below the surface. And even more divisive than cultural differences, is the divide between philosphies/attitudes/worldviews (Sam Brownback was KSU class president while I was a student), like the difference/divide between Obama v Tom Tancreto (splg); AirAmericaRadio v FoxNews/O'Reilly/Limbaugh/etc.; Bush v Carter. So, 20 volunteers for Obama seems a lot to me. I went to KSU for over 20 years and never met over 10 liberals/progressives the entire time and to think there could be a rising tide of 20 potential liberals/progressives who will be spanning out to Manhattan households spreading Obama's philosophy is awesome and a reason to hope for a change in worldviews/attitudes/opinions/politics.
Reporter: Deborah Phelan
Event location: Corte Madera, CA
Event description: The CD6 team set up their staging grounds ideally. A small park in South Central Marin where numerous Saturday family events (ballgames, 2nd Tuesday of the Month street fair and firehouse open house) so that the 10-3 Obama table itself was highly visible. Clear signing to staging area. Volunteers were assigned particular streets, 50 house maximums for lst round), given verbal instructions and tips on canvassing. Each volunteer received a folder with requisite forms, sample introduction letters, and ample handouts. Volunteers were transported to their particular assignments. Upon completing canvassing, coordinator spent a great deal of time talking with each person about the experience. Refreshments were provided. An outstanding event, probably the best organized Obama event I have yet attended.
How receptive were people to B. Obama's message against the war? People were very much tired of talking about the Iraq war. There were a few who did not believe Obama's plan for withdrawal was feasible and there were also some who were not aware that he had come up with a new plan. There was a great sense of hopelessness about Iraq.
What happened at the event? Volunteers dispersed from the staging area almost immediately with teams and began work. There were rarely more than 4 or 5 people at the stating point at any one time. Everyone was there to work and eager to get to it.
Who attended the event? An equal number of men and women, majority middle aged but a good numer of very excited high school and college students. Mostly long term volunteers for Obama. Most new to campaigning.
Overall take: "Fanning out from the official Obama launch pad, seven teams in campaign tees, hats and lapel pins, walked through three sun-splashed Marin neighborhoods, visiting over 500 homes and chatting with 140 local Democrats. "It was really inspiring to see how excited people were to talk to us today," says Canvassing Director Ben Ludke. "Now is exactly the right time because Californians are starting to think about the primary." Volunteer Sandy Grant laughs about the big Barack Obama supporter she talked to who showed up later to register to vote at the booth. "Look at us, so excited about one teenager when there are millions of people across America who have to register." Everybody nods. They're all thinking the same thing. One vote at a time."
Reporter: Jeremy Thompson
Event location: Koreatown - Los Angeles, CA
Video reporting from the Obama for America "Canvass for Change" in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles, California:
Reporter: Kim Mack
Event location: Sacramento, CA
Web registered Attendees: 11
Organization rating: well organized
How receptive were people were to B. Obama's message against the war? People were very receptive to Barack's message as they have been in the Sacramento for everything else. We have been finding through our canvassing and phone banking that the numbers we obtained today are pretty consistent. A vast majority of people are undecided. Of those who have picked a candidate the majority of people we contact are for Obama, follwed by Edwards and Clinton. The numbers the media has been reporting in the polls are definitely not the numbers we are seeing on the ground in Sacramento.
Reporter: Sheila Condit
Event location: Altadena, CA
Event description: Hard to say since the three attendees were rabid Obama supporters,; if there had been an earthquake, they wouldn't have been demoralized. The organizer, Laura Lee Chin had plenty of literature.
How receptive people were to B. Obama's message against the war? I didn't canvass, but the attendees support Obama on everything. Ms. Chin was chatting up a lady who was having a cigarette outside of the event location (It never moved indoors) who didn't know that Al Gore was a Democrat, if that tells you anything.
Who attended the event: The attendees were Laura Lee-Chin, Mike Barako, and someone who does not wish to be identified (I will refer to her as "anonymous from here on out). They were around 40 years old. (Mr. Barako may be younger; he has supported Obama from the moment his candidacy was announced.) The attendees were Asian, African-American, and Italian American.
Overall take: "Anonymous" and Ms. Lee-Chin were surprised (though courteous) at my disclosure of Edwards support. They believe him not genuine and Ms. Lee-Chin mentioned "the three H's- Hair, House, and Hedgefund." In spite of their seemingly more fervent distaste for Ms. Clinton, "the queen of earmarks" according to "anonymous," "anonymous" also seemed to think Clinton's lead (according to the polls) didn't have much to do with MSM influence. Further "anonymous" considers the MSM not to be biased, rather that it is simply influenced by "prevailing winds,"although "anonymous" claims to be well informed and a blogger on HuffPo. Mr. Barako seems to think "some of the" MSM are "getting it," and referenced ABC and Chris Matthews as examples of his notions. These three are devoted supporters and, without question, will spend serious shoe leather and time for their favored candidate. (As an aside, I'd like to mention that the meetings for Obama in this district are held in a facility managed by a Kucinich supporter.)
Reporter: Phoebe Love
Event Location: Ballard, Washington
Organization Rating: well organized
Event description: When we got there, there were clipboards and instructions all ready for us, and all questions were answered clearly.
What happened at the event?: It was a beautiful day in the Seattle area - sunny, warm, perfect. About 95% of the people were not home. Of those that would speak to us, almost all were undecided, nobody didn't like Obama, a couple of people hated Clinton, one person was decidedly for Clinton, and one for Kucinich. About 1/3 of the people we talked to were happy to engage in conversation, rather than get us on our way. As I was walking home from the event with my new Obama window sign I was approached several times by strangers who like Obama, and I handed them buttons, which they were delighted to receive. That part was fun.
Who attended the event? 2 men 6 women, mid-twenties to mid-50s, all white, new volunteers to long-time volunteers.
Overall take: We had a tiny sample size because most people weren't home - the weather was beautiful. Of the ones at home, almost all were undecided, and nobody seemed to want more information, saying they were bombarded enough as it was. They were generally polite, but wary.
Reporter: Laura Martin
Event Location: Boise, Idaho
Event description: Obama for America provided the grassroots Idaho for Obama campaign with pamphlets, bumper stickers, stickers and buttons. Everything was set up. Easy to read maps were provided and on organizer was in charge of dividing up the neighborhood so no street was done twice. There was even snacks and drinks set up!
What happened at the event? About 19 people split up and canvassed the historial north end of down town Boise, which is also considered to be historically liberal. About 2600 homes were leafed
How receptive were people were to Obama's message against the war? Each informational pamphlet unfolded into an Obama for President sign. Post-canvass, people were reporting that signs were already going up. No negative reports, those who did talk to people reported everyone was receptive to the message we were pushing.
Who attended the event? There was a nice mix of young, old, male and female. A few strollers with babies too
Overall take: 2,600 homes in northern Boise received information on Senator Obama. The informational pamphlets unfolded into window-sized Obama posters which could be seen displayed in windows post-canvass. Obama will be the only candidate with an official campaign office in Idaho. He is the only democratic candidate, according to the Democratic party, who has purchased voter lists. Idaho hasn't sent a Democrat to the White House since Lyndon B Johnson.
Reporter: Daniel Macht
Event Location: Brooklyn, NY
Event description: Event host Joshua Wick, 33, felt embarrassed Wednesday that there wasn't a Williamsburg, Brooklyn presence. So he decided to host the canvassing event without thinking many people would volunteer on such short notice. The event was what it was: one person passing out approximately 200 fliers to passersby on a busy street corner. Josh said he didn't think he could convert anyone. "It's more about finding out who your supporters are." When he does, he tries to sign them up for information on donating and volunteering for Obama.
How receptive were people were to Obama's message against the war? Most people didn't stop to chat. If they took a flier, they kept walking without really glancing at it. Of the five people over the course of two hours who did stop, all expressed interest that Obama was the first major presidential candidate to be against the war. But they were all undecided, save one Edwards supporter. All said the war wasn't the only issue they cared about. One older lady who was selling jewelry on the street next to Joshua got upset that Joshua was supporting Obama. She told him to "take a bath" because he appeared dirty to her. She called Joshua an idiot for supporting a candidate who wanted to end the war and said if were it not for the U.S. fighting in WWII the Nazis would have taken over America.
What happened at the event? Joshua handed out fliers to passersby while standing at the corner of Bedford and North 7th Street. Down the street was the Bedford L train subway entrance; it was a pretty busy thoroughfare. As people passed by, Joshua would point a flier at them and say, "Hi. Check out Obama's plan to end the war." Most people would not take a flier. The best thing that happened was when Joshua got into conversation with someone who was canvassing for Green Peace. After much negotiation both activists agreed to donate to each others' campaigns.
Overall take: Joshua Wick, 33, knew he wouldn't draw many Obama volunteers Saturday to canvass his Brooklyn neighborhood, Williamsburg. Wick only signed up to host it Wednesday. Still, Wick thought by starting at 2 p.m. post-brunch, he could at least hook one other hipster or young professional for the cause. Not so. So instead of going door-to-door, Wick stood for a few hours on a busy street corner near the Bedford L stop, and passed out 200 copies of a flier on Obama's four-steps to end the war in Iraq. Most people ignored Wick's overtures, or took his flier with hardly a cursory glance at its contents. One woman selling jewelry on the same street finally gave the Obama volunteer some direct attention. "Take a bath," she sneered after looking over Wick's sandy-brown beard and matching tufts of hair that unfurled from his cap. "I took a shower this morning," Wick replied.
Reporter: Saba Kennedy
Event Location: Charlotte, NC
Event description: Mr. Hocken explained that this was the first event he had organized and pretty much wanted to insure that he allowed all attendees to express their point of view. Because he was not sure what to expect, he did not have a firm agenda or "order of events." He just sort of let things happen naturally.
How receptive were people were to Obama's message against the war? The organizers were really influenced and motivated by Mr. Obama's anti-war stance. In fact they gave him respect for being the lone candidate for speaking against the Iraq war from the beginning. That was more of a motivator than Mrs. Clinton's Healthcare position (eventhough healthcare was a BIG issue). They see Mrs. Clinton as a Washington Insider who will bring more of the same ole same ole.
Overall take: Today's event was a small gathering of Barack Obama Supporters. There was a total of 5 people to be exact and the expected attendance was 7. The Organizer was Danny Hocken, a 37 year old Caucasian Male with an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University. Mr. Hocken was introduced to Obama by his Mother, and describes Obama as a "Unifier" and points to the fact that he has "taught Constitutional Law and therefore understands the importance of our Constitution" unlike George Bush who is about "spying on us, false imprisonment and not due process." Mr. Hocken says that he hosted the event because "it is my right, and the constitution provides for the right to free assembly." When I asked about how race and gender played into his decision, he responded; "I do not care about race or gender. Just the best candidate for President. I care about his (Obama's) credentials and the need to move toward bi-partisan politics." He was concerned that we needed to move away from the idea of isolating people that don't agree with us. Mr. Hocken said that the direction that we were moving in was reminiscent of "George Orwell's 1984, the whole idea of The Axis of Evil and making an unseen enemy to obtain more power is ridiculous." He says his Mom is a declared feminist but supports Barack and he does not like that Hillary voted for the war in the first place, and believes that she was part of giving Bush a blank check for the war. So, in his view, Barack is about Hope and making a difference. Mr. Hocken was supported by his friend Tarik Kiley who is 31 year old African-American Male who has an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies as well as Bachelors with a double major in Africana-Studies & Political Science. Mr. Kiley is currently pursuing a Masters in Community Planning. He also described himself as the "God-Son of Beverly Earle;" the Democratic Mayoral Candidate running against Republican incumbent Pat McCrorey in the upcoming November Elections. If Earle wins she would be the first African-American Female to hold this position.
The attendees at the event as well as the organizers expressed a great deal of hope in Mr. Obama's ability to unify people and bring a positive light back to America. They believed that the Bush focus on Iraq has taken away from the national agenda of healthcare and has polarized people across the nation and globally. When asked what they thought about Michelle Obama, they agreed that she was "pretty and smart." The woman in the group (who chose to remain anonymous) also agreed with their observations about Obama and his wife.
The gathering was very informal and seemed to be more of an orientation meeting and familiarization of this group's visions, intentions and expectations. We met in Mr. Hocken's apartment which was very cozy, minimally decorated, and showcased his computer as the living room's focal point. There was no TV set in sight. In fact, we watched Obama web casts and speeches from his PC while munching on cookies, Pepsi and water. Both gentlemen were extremely impressed by Mr. Obama's qualifications. Mr. Kiley even listed his (Obama's) credentials as Law Professor and Senator. He noted that even though people say he (Obama) is not experienced, he possesses a lot of "charisma and intelligence." They spoke about having read Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" and feel that he listens to what people have to say instead of making speeches without knowing what his constituents want. Healthcare, jobs and things that affect middle class America were themes that kept coming up throughout our discussion. Mr. Kiley even suggested that the response to Katrina would have been different with Obama were in office because he believed that the Bush Administration missed it based on their Iraq focus.
So walking away from this meeting, it was my impression that Health care, Getting out of Iraq, restoring America nationally and our image across the globe, Breathing life back into the Middle Class, Energy & Alternative Fuels is BIG issues among these grassroots supporters. Mr. Kiley mentioned that "when Clinton was in office we were more of humanitarian based nation ( i.e. Bosnia) then with Bush who they believe to be following an agenda that is not really about helping people. Mr. Hocken echoed those sentiments making note that "I don't like war." And back to the issue of healthcare, they both agreed that they "have friends that work full-time jobs and can't afford it."
Reporter: Al Cannistraro
Event Location: Keene, NH
Organization Rating: The orientation was very thorough and highly organized, and took more than 45 minutes. There was a DVD and presentations by 3 people. It also included role-playing. On return, participants were to be individually debriefed.
Event description: I only attended the orientation. Unfortunately, because I had identified myself as an OnTheBus contributor when I registered for the event, I was contacted by an Obama NH campaign official and asked not to speak with any staffers. when I arrived 30 minutes early, I was told that all in the office were to be considered staffers. I was treated as a more-or-less invisible person during the orientation, and scripts other printed materials were not made available to me. I left 45 minutes into the orientation to observe a nearby Edwards Town Hall event.
Who attended the event? 22 total, of whom 8 were male, 7 were above college age, and 1 was black. About 10 wore Obama t-shirts. About half seemed to be experienced canvassers for Obama.
Please describe the mood of the supporters after the canvass: Based on overheard chatter prior to the start of the orientation, the staffers at this office appeared to be enthusiastic and cautiously optimistic that Obama would win a close primary in NH. Based on their description of maps and walk lists, they seemed very confident of their knowledge of the local electorate. Based on the fact that encouraged canvassers to take extensive notes on voter reactions and on the planned individual canvasser debriefings, the staff seemed very intelligent and focused on doing what it takes to win.
Reporter: Richard Greenwood
Event location: San Mateo, California
Event description: The meeting place, Central Park in San Mateo, was easy to find, had good signage. The event coordinator, Mark Brickman, gave good instructions and had good materials to hand out. He had maps ready for the teams and clear goals for them to accomplish.
How receptive were people to B. Obama's message against the war? They were cordial and respectful and generally appreciative of the support that was being shown for the candidate and the cause by the act of canvasing
What happened at the event? Each team was responsible for visiting 50 houses, distributing materials, and recording the reactions of people.
Who attended the event? The organizers were a team of two, a husband and wife team of around 50. The other team members ranged in age from high school students to retirees, and there were an even mix of men and women.
Overall take: The event kicked off at 10:00 a.m. Saturday. It was a beautiful day in San Mateo, near were Tom Brady grew up. Six teams of two were given materials about the war in Iraq and Barack Obama. They left to distribute the materials. Mark Brickman, the organizer of the event, reported at the end of the day that the event far exceeded his expectations. More than 50 homes were visited by each of the teams and the reactions in the neighborhoods visited were positive overall. Interestingly, in none of the conversations overheard from the organizers or the participants was the subject of race mentioned.
Reporter: Jason Barnett and Noah Kunin from Uptake.org
Event location: Mason City, Minnesota
Event location: Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines---Deep in precinct 62 in the southwestern part of town filled with neatly-kept middle class ranch houses built in the 50s and 60s; Kwame Smith walks rain soaked paved streets knocking on the doors of registered Democrats for Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
"Hi, I'm your neighbor Kwame Smith and I'm here to talk to you about Barack Obama. Are you planning on attending your caucus?"
And so begins the hard work of drumming up support for your favorite presidential candidate with the most entitled voters in America - door to door, neighbor to neighbor.
Smith is one of 400 Obama volunteers in 46 communities who knocked on 10,000 doors this Saturday in a race to out-organize the Democratic presidential competition. Smith helped Senator Obama kick off his second major canvassing effort in this early primary state whose voters will be the first to choose a presidential preference.
Senator Obama, still among the top three presidential Democratic candidates here, joined the canvassing effort in Des Moines, shocking those who opened their doors to find the tall candidate smiling and wearing a black leather jacket and blue shirt - sans the tie as is his usual custom - and asking for their vote.
"This is the first time I've been involved in a presidential campaign since I was nine years old and my father took me to a caucus meeting when he supported Reverend Jesse Jackson for president in 1984," said Smith, who is a social worker for the Fifth Federal Judicial District in Des Moines, Iowa.
As we walk down Lewis Street, Smith checks the next house on his list and tells me, "I'm an Obama supporter because he was against the war and Hillary and Edwards supported the war. That's my biggest issue. Obama and my views are exactly the same on the Iraq War. I don't really think Edwards or Hillary wanted to go to war, they were just scared because of the polls
and the early support for it. Barack was right then and he's right now."
Smith knocks on Dan Arply's door and launches into his opening rap until Arply interrupts by saying, "Thanks for stopping by, but I haven't decided on supporting anyone yet."
Arply is a typical Iowan. Most haven't settled on a candidate, but they will be squaring off as caucus time nears.
[There are 1784 neighborhood meetings called caucuses and a candidate must win between 15-25% of those votes in the room. That translates into signing up about 2,000 hardcore supporters articulate enough to sway the other candidate supporters. Precinct captains in each district are key factors in organizing a caucus win, which has historically been a harbinger of success in the New Hampshire Primary and beyond.]
The Iowa caucus date is changing almost weekly but is expected to be scheduled in the first week of January - unless New Hampshire chooses a December date. By law, the Iowa caucus must occur five days before the New Hampshire primary.
Arply tells Smith that he likes Obama and that he's concerned about health care. "But, I see flaws in all the presidential candidates," says Arply. Smith marks down Arply's concerns on a printed sheet which will be digested by "a machine somewhere in Chicago," says Smith.
Arply and Smith continue discussing health care and the recent cutbacks for children's health care at the federal level before Smith gives him an Obama brochure and promises to see him on caucus night.
"This is tough work," says Smith as we leave Arply's home and walk down the street.
"This is the second weekend I've spent canvassing and I'll do it at least one more time before the caucuses. Normally, on Saturday, I'd be at my second job as a counselor at a Meyer Hall [the county's adolescent home for troubled teens] or spend the day with my 2-year-old daughter, Sia. But, I'm the precinct captain for Obama and I did sign up one new Obama supporter
Smith proudly shows me the volunteer sign up form that the resident across the street has signed, agreeing to caucus for Obama.
These are the small pleasures precinct captains and volunteers cling to in a day full of meeting strangers and listening to them unload their political concerns and staying pleasant, smiling through it all.
Smith walks briskly to the next house, Dan and Carol Johnson as light rain drops begin to fall again.
The Johnsons are home and they admit to being John Edwards' supporter but they say, almost apologetically, "We like Obama, we're just concerned he isn't experienced enough."
Smith launches into Obama's experience and legislative record. "He's actually got as much experience as John Edwards."
Smith asks the Johnsons who they would support if Edwards doesn't have enough votes to be a viable candidate after the first or second votes during the caucus.
"Oh, I don't know," says Carol Johnson. "One thing is sure, I'm not for Hillary. She's just got too much baggage and I don't want the Democrats to be swift-boated again."
They talk for another fifteen minutes about the long list of issues that concern this retired couple and then Smith reminds them to attend their caucus meeting, "at the church on 14th & McKinley."
The Johnsons wish Smith well and as he walks away he tells me, "They're the first Edwards' supporters I've met today. I've also met one hard-core Hillary supporter."
On the eighteen doors that Smith knocked today - and found someone at home - there are two Edwards' supporters, one hardcore Hillary supporter and two Obama supporters with an energetic committed Obama precinct captain at the helm.
This microcosm of precinct 62 in Des Moines seems to shore-up the latest Iowa Poll that pits the top three candidates about evenly split, if you figure the margin of error at 6.4%. Obama looks to be doing what he needs to do to earn a blue ribbon showing on a cold caucus night, but the
competition is as tough as Smith's job today.
After finishing his list for the day, Smith drives back to the Obama headquarters office in downtown Des Moines, reports his findings to Chris Young, a full-time political organizer and retells his best story of the day:
"I got a new volunteer. He's never attended a caucus before and I've got another few interested!"
The youthful Obama staffers listen intently to Smith, check his results, and thank him for giving up a rare Saturday when he could have been with his daughter or making a few bucks at his second job.
This kind of organizing is exactly what the Iowa caucuses' demand of its presidential candidates. There are no short cuts, no big advertising buys, and no big-time endorsements that take the place of shoe leather hitting the pavement and lone volunteers knocking on doors.