I Was an Obama Volunteer

Feature: WFB Reporter Knows Hope for One Hour


ARLINGTON, Va. — I am not filled with what you might call civic pride, but for one hour last week I was an Obama volunteer, fired up and ready to go, looking forward, not backward.

It was a first. I have never participated in a campaign outside of some side work for friends running in local-level contests on the West Coast. I have not voted in eight years and, since I missed the October registration deadline in the District of Columbia, it will be at least another two years before I have the chance to break my streak.

However, never having been, as they say, “on the ground” in a political campaign, I figured this had to be the time. This is, after all, the most important and critical election of my lifetime, or so my boss tells me.

So I walked into a small conference room in the Walter Reed Community Center Thursday night in Arlington for an Obama campaign volunteer meeting.

There were 11 people seated in a semi-circle around the room. One by one, we gave the “My name is so-and-so, and I’m here because …” spiel.

A middle-aged man named Andre described himself as “ultra-conservative,” but said the current Republican Party was full of “freakin’ crap” and also mildly treasonous.

The crowd was diverse—black, white, and Latino; male and female; a pair of Lebanese immigrants. After introductions, the organizer could not get her PowerPoint presentation working, so she gave us a verbal rundown.

We heard the harrowing tale of 2004, when a few states swung by the smallest of margins to Bush and doomed the candidacy of John Kerry. It was meant as a warning. And we heard of the vaunted Obama ground game—allegedly three times the size of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s.

Six other identical meetings were taking place across Arlington and Alexandria, where one assumes organizers delivered similar spiels.

The Virginia campaign is focusing almost exclusively on voter turnout in Northern Virginia, also known as “NoVa.” The southern part of the state is too red, too spread out, and too expensive to target effectively.

“The advantage of Arlington is that it’s blue,” the organizer said. “The disadvantage is that people don’t vote.”

Earlier in the election, people told the phone bankers to stop calling them because Obama had the state in the bag. Now people tell the phone bankers to stop calling them because Romney has the state locked up.

Thirty-five percent of the campaign’s work will take place in the last three days of the election. The Obama campaign has been doing practice runs to fine tune their turnout operation during the Saturdays leading up to Election Day.

Virginia Democrats registered 125,000 voters this cycle and hope to turn out 900,000. Which is where I—I mean, we—I mean, the volunteers—were supposed to come in. After the brief talk, the sign-up sheets came out. We were asked to sign up for a phone banking or canvassing shift.

Two Arlington Democrat officials were sitting next to me. When one of them noticed I had left my sign-up sheet untouched, she insisted. “We’ve got to get as many people out there as we can,” she told me. This was the hard sell.

Across the room, a twenty-something guy with a neckbeard and Redskins beanie was telling another attendee about his problem figuring out Mitt Romney. He couldn’t tell if Romney was an idiot or an evil genius.

“With Bush, it was easy,” neckbeard said. “Bush was the dope, and Cheney was the cloak and dagger guy.”

I left the community center after turning in my volunteer sheet, glad to be once again unencumbered besides my work at the Free Beacon, which frees me of any nagging civic responsibility.

CJ Ciaramella   Email CJ | Full Bio | RSS
CJ Ciaramella is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Beacon, he was a reporter for the Daily Caller. He was also a Collegiate Network year-long fellow at the San Diego Union-Tribune and has written articles for the Weekly Standard and Oregon Quarterly. Ciaramella attended the University of Oregon, where he edited the award-winning student magazine, the Oregon Commentator. He lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @cjciaramella. His email address is ciaramella@freebeacon.com.

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