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Comfort Captain and Team One Director:

On the Road to An Obama Victory

by John Malone

It was 8:30 pm on Saturday night, October 25, Baracktoberfest in Obama campaign-speak. Christa and I, with three visiting weekend volunteers from Tennessee, had just finished our supper and logged in to a listen-only conference call for Obama Change Crew Chiefs across our red-state, North Carolina battleground.

Although it sounded faint and tinny as it emerged from the little speaker on my cell phone, sitting open on its back like a capsized turtle in the middle of the dining room table, the voice was unmistakably his: calm, slow and measured, emphasizing a key word in each clause, then saying and, then pausing before moving on to the next related thought. The accent was a mellow mlange of Hawaii, Harvard, Chicago and many other places, impossible to pinpoint geographically. He kept thanking us for our efforts and saying how proud he was of us, particularly those working out in the rural areas.

Soon all five of us had tears in our eyes, a frequent phenomenon, at least for me, when listening to Barack Obama speak.

Earlier in the call we had heard from Marc Farinella, our state campaign director, that in that week alone we had succeeded in recruiting more than fifteen hundred additional volunteers for the three hundred new North Carolina staging locations for GOTV, the final, get-out-the-vote phase of the 2008 presidential campaign.

He then asked us to wait a few minutes for a personal message from Senator Obama, who would speak to us on a satellite phone aboard his airplane as it approached Raleigh-Durham Airport wheels down' for another big North Carolina campaign event. What a thrill!

A couple of weeks earlier, after Senator Obamas big Sunday afternoon rally on October 5th in the Asheville High School Stadium, I was appointed director of Team 1 at a new staging locations in Haywood County. My teams turf covered the eight precincts in and around Waynesville, my home town, encompassing 12,846 registered voters, about thirty percent of the total county.

Following the primary campaign, we volunteers continued phoning and canvassing to identify the 'up for grabs' voters across the county who could be persuaded to support our candidate, recruiting many more volunteers in the process.

At the same time we continued to register eligible voters, mostly young people, who were not yet registered or had moved to a new address, keeping that effort going right up to the deadline on October 10. Finally, whenever contacting Obama supporters, we urged them all to vote early, beginning on October 16. This part of the campaign was particularly successful. Fifty-eight percent of the people who voted for Obama-Biden in Haywood County did so before election day.

Finally, starting Saturday, November 1 st, we began the four-day final phase of the Obama ground game, getting out the vote. We knew, or thought we knew, the names of all those who supported Obama, and we got the names of those who had voted early. The remainder of the list was targeted for more phone calls and visits.

We worked all weekend from nine in the morning to nine at night. Forty-five people came to help at my location on Day 1, some of them staying all day and making several canvassing trips out into the precincts. Christa, who had already been hosting visiting volunteers from nearby Tennessee at our home for the previous four weekends, changing sheets and serving breakfasts, now shifted into high gear and arranged for beverages, snacks and hot meals to be served to the volunteers at our staging location on each of the four days of GOTV, including Election Day. She was Team 1s Comfort Captain, a title she did not enjoy, as it reminded her too much of the women who were sent into war with the Japanese soldiers in WWII!

When Election Day dawned, we began arranging for drivers to take voters to the polling places. Most of our passengers were elderly, some desperately poor. One volunteer returned from a trip to the polls sobbing. She had gone to pick up an old man in his late eighties who lived all alone in a broken down trailer home. He was legally blind and could not drive any longer. He was so pleased to be given a ride and allowed to vote for the candidate of his choice that, when they returned to his trailer, he reached in the pocket of his faded overalls and took out all the money that was there, about three dollars in change. He said, Here, you give this to Mr. Obama!

Later that day, when it was already getting dark, a Tennessee volunteer who had already been out canvassing all day came to a ramshackle old house where he found an eighty-six year old woman who had not voted since her husband had died twenty years earlier. She could not read or write and had no car. He took her to the polling place and arranged for a poll worker to assist her. She was so happy and excited to be voting, she started telling the other people in line with her how wonderful the Obama campaign was and urging them to vote accordingly.

Voter turnout across North Carolina reached a record-smashing sixty-nine percent that day, enabling Barack Obama to win a narrow victory in our formerly red state, which had not voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

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