Since i’ve never lived in a battleground state, American politics really feels like an internet phenomenon followed from afar. Saturday, I got my first taste of democracy in( )action: canvassing for Obama (and Shaheen and Hodes, but I’ll get to those two in a minute) in Nashua NH. Between the too-early wake up (6.45) and the many folding tables covered in big box store brand rugelach and boxed coffee, I could tell I was in for a treat.
The Obama regional office in Nashua is located along a strip of fast food joints in a low-slung former mattress showroom, which may have fallen victim to the economic slowdown. Volunteers from Little Rhody (including over ninety from Brown), Massachusetts, and Connecticut joined local folks in tight shivering circles sipping apple cider and learning how to use the demographic information in our walk packs. There was enough campaign lit to educate thousands on the need for A New Direction in Washington and enough campaign stickers for people to put them on both the inside and the outside of their jackets. The impressive variety of local campaign posters in the windows – mixed in with handwritten oak tag signs – and the circulating Shaheen volunteers in green hoodies gave the scene a real small town feeling.
We were assigned to canvass Westgate Village, a charming development southwest of town. The McCain-Palin lawn sign outside our first house, 2 Boulder Circle, made it perhaps the easiest of the day. Zack and I were novice canvassers, so when we got to our next target, Birdy took the lead to show us how it was done. Unfortunately, the middle-aged Republican man who answered the door was not pleased when she asked for someone who lives down the street. It was the first door closed on us, but we coded it as a “not home.” They’ll get another visit later this week.
It was clear that the people in the neighborhood were wise to our little canvassing scheme. The first person to actually talk to us we caught on the way into his house with some groceries. We were at the house next door, and it was clear he was trying to sneak in without being noticed. He (re)informed the campaign, through us, that he is an Obama supporter. It was his fifth time being canvassed this week. Most of the doors we knocked never opened. Most of the driveways were empty, but it definitely felt as if the people of Nashua know not to open their doors late on saturday mornings.
One of the most shocking (and encouraging) aspects of the trip was a real look at how the Obama campaign is overwhelming McCain on the ground. While knocking on several doors, we noticed old Obama “lit” on the stoop. Since we were dropping the same glossy pamphlets, it had probably only been a couple days since the last canvass. But we never saw any vestiges of the McCain campaign; no canvassers, no lit, and only two lawn signs (including a particularly repulsive and contextually ineffectual “Another Democrat for McCain”). We “talked” to several McCain supporters (“you have the wrong house, kids”) but it seemed as if the McCain campaign has given up on a state that is historically red and only recently turned purple.
Our best house was a recently convinced supporter holding her one year old daughter. Since the canvass was officially a joint effort between the Obama and Shaheen campaigns (apparently Hodes was a bit of a free rider on the effort) we tried talking about the senate and house races. It was awkward. I certainly support Shaheen unseating Sununu-R, but I can’t speak convincingly about the race beyond the meek “It’s really important for Barack to have as much legislative support as possible in the senate.”
Back at HQ after an edible Boston Market lunch we joined a little parking lot rally. John Kerry got up on the bed of a green pickup (i forgot to check whether or not it was a domestic model) and gave a rousing little speech about how he thinks McCain is a great guy but would be a terrible president (all i could think of was Jason Sudeikis’ Biden impression from the SNL VP debate). It was great to wave the Obama sign and snap a grainy cell phone picture while cheering at the same talking points we used hours earlier. I was especially impressed by Kerry’s self-effacing discussion of McCain’s flip-flopping combined with a slight jab at himself.
Before yesterday, I had never been to a political rally, never canvassed a battleground state, and never felt as close to American democracy. It was definitely worth missing a few hours of sleep.