It's not every day that you walk into a house in Michigan and are welcomed by a clutch of the Democratic Party's leading women. Then again, everything seems different this election. And Michigan is up for grabs. This past weekend the campaign dispatched Democratic National Committee Vice-Chair Susan Turnbull, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Atlanta-based Judge Glenda Hatchett (of television fame) on a three-day blitz across the state. It was a part of the campaign's strategy of going straight into neighborhoods and homes.
This event, part of the Michigan Women for Obama effort, was held in the home of Ingham County Commissioner Rebecca Behar. The gathering drew nearly 40 people of all ages and ethnicities, all Obama/Biden supporters, who wanted to hear more about how the campaign was really going here.
The buzz in the room was clearly focused on recent widespread stories that Michigan individuals and families who had lost their homes to foreclosure would not be able to vote in the November election thanks to Republican maneuvering. Michigan State Senator Joan Bauer assured supporters that Democratic legislators were working on a bill that would prevent that from happening, Turnbull added that the Democrats have dispatched their lawyers to file suit as well.
The Obama campaign here is working hard to secure the student vote, Turnbull said. According to Michigan law, first-time voters must cast their ballots in the precinct of their "permanent residence -- for students that mostly means in the towns where their parents live. East Lansing, the home of Michigan State University, is making arrangements for students to travel home for Election Day.
Although the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore seems a lifetime ago, the people in the room drew heavily on their recollections of the election, one marked by disenfranchisement, of swinging and hanging chads. One woman expressed the concerns of others in the room when she asked, "how do we prevent what happened in Florida from happening here?"
"The way we keep it from happening is to get out to vote and make sure that it's not a contested race," Turnbull said. Judge Hatchett added, "we don't want it to be close enough for the [Republicans] to steal it."
One of the concerns of the group was that Obama may be getting beat by the punchy one-liners of his opponents. "When is he going to start giving us sound bites?" another participant asked. Turnbull said that the campaign is getting the message. "After the 9-11 commemorations, he came out swinging," she said. She drew attention to one of McCain's snappy one liners a few weeks ago, when he was asked about the state of the economy. The Republican candidate declared that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," and later admitted that the economy really wasn't his strong suit. The women all agreed that it was more important to have a leader who was thoughtful about solutions, than to come up with quick statements that were just plain wrong.
Where blacks and whites may walk gingerly around the impact of race in the campaign publicly, in this cozy living room they addressed it head on. "I'm worried that no matter how qualified that Barack Obama is, there are many white people who just won't vote for him because he's black," a white woman said. Bob Alexander, the Democrat running against incumbent U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) told the group of Obama supporters that it was key for the white volunteers to go out into small communities across the state to talk to voters about why they are supporting Obama.
Rep. Maloney said that this was the most divisive campaign in her lifetime. "It's important to talk about the issues that are important to people," she said. Maloney and Turnbull talked about the Obama platform that puts emphasis on health care, and relief for a struggling middle class and solutions to the energy crisis, all messages that the campaign is betting will play well in economically ravaged Michigan. Judge Hatchett gave a spirited talk on the importance of the election and urged the group to not only get out the vote, but to vote early.