Elissa Middleton is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.
We just spent the weekend in Montgomery, PA canvassing undecided voters at home for the Obama campaign. In two days we knocked on about 100 doors and spoke with people in about half to one third of the homes. Montgomery PA is a republican stronghold and an area rich with big pharmaceutical companies. Merck, Wyeth, GlaxoSmithKline and others are based there.
There's about another week before the leaves are at their peak in Montgomery, and the weather stayed bright and crisp. Most of our routes included homes in subdivided track housing communities - the most expensive looked like Poltergeist houses on steroids and had been built not more than five years ago. Some of the undecided voters we spoke to (corporate attorneys, pharm execs) feared that their taxes would rise under Obama, which would mean a serious change of lifestyle. Their kids are not going to get scholarships because of their income levels and yes, they have Escalades in the driveway, but still, like anyone else, they live within their own budgetary constraints and feel they already pay astronomical taxes. Tax levels for those making over $250K net are not slated to rise higher than they were under Reagan, but people also feared that corporate taxes may indeed mean cut backs and loss of jobs within (in this case) big pharm. Invoking Obama's health plan did raise a nod as more insured people would mean more drug sales, but the more well off, many of whom had voted republican in the last two elections and now were leaning dem, also felt that Obama had not addressed their economic concerns. He consistently speaks of the 95% of Americans who make under a quarter million and it was my sense that they felt they were being not only hosed for yet more taxes, but made to feel like the bad guys.
Some undecided voters felt there was simply too much negative campaigning on both sides; others felt Obama was not consistent enough in his support for the troops. One family said they had not registered in time so couldn't vote anyway. Another fellow said he was undecided because he feared what the right wing would do to Obama and his family.
Obama has 9 offices in Montgomery county alone, and no one who works or volunteers at any of them has ever seen anyone canvassing for McCain, who I think they said only has one office in Harrisburg, PA. Obama's XXIst century grass roots organization is really a marvel to behold and be a part of, if anyone is considering volunteering. I don't know how they get their lists of undecided voters, but apparently over 600 volunteers from NYC were in Montgomery this weekend canvassing. They instructed us to simply thank McCain voters and not try to convince them, and generally not to talk about McCain or Palin but to keep the focus on Barack and ask the undecided which specific issues were of the greatest concern. We were distributing three pamphlets: one on Obama's tax plan, one on his health care plan and one on Economic Security. The head of all the Montgomery county offices is an impressive young man (18!) named Gabe who has deferred his freshman year at Harvard to work for the campaign.
Did we make a difference? In many cases we felt as if we did address some of their specific concerns sufficiently to make people feel comfortable about an Obama vote. In other cases we felt as though, even if still undecided, at least the voter had a positive interaction with someone from the campaign. There's nothing very personal about robocalls, now is there. In a few cases the people on our 'undecided' list were either teens or away at college and their parents were home: several were Republicans voting for Obama; others were stolid McCain voters. Though I got few vigorous "No's" and one hung-over door slam, only one fellow (who we later noticed had an iron cross spray painted on his orange pickup) who we approached while looking for a wrong address, said anything really awful: "This is a white neighborhood." Funny: at two other houses within a hundred yards we found committed Obama voters!
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