STUMPING FOR OBAMA IN BUCKS COUNTY, PA.
By Jeff Williams
As a political junkie, one of the downsides of living in New York is that our state is never contested in presidential elections. In an attempt to do my part, I’ve made two trips to Bucks County, Penn. to knock on doors and canvass voters for the Obama campaign. My first trip in September took me to Quakertown, a small town with many working class retirees. Recently I traveled to Bristol, a more economically diverse area with both McMansion-filled cul-de-sacs and trailer parks.
On both trips I’ve been impressed by the sophistication of the Obama campaign’s field organizing. Upon arriving at a campaign office, volunteers receive quick training about canvassing and are given tips on talking to voters. Equipped with well-organized “walk packets,” including driving directions and tally sheets, we set out to talk to the voters.
A day spent canvassing is a long one. One quickly realizes that on sunny Saturday afternoons, most people aren’t home, or have more interesting things to do than talk to a visiting New Yorker about Obama’s energy policy. This is all quickly forgotten once voters begin to share their stories. There were a surprising number who invited us up on their porches to talk about the issues that mattered to them.
I was touched by an 80-year-old woman in Quakertown who opened the door just when I was about to leave. She was limited by a loss of eyesight due to advanced macular degeneration, a condition that could be improved if only she could afford the medical bills without fear of losing her home. After working in the same factory for 60 years until age 76, she was let go due to her failing eyesight with no pension and without a thank you in return for a lifetime of work. Now on a fixed income, her clouded eyes teared up as she discussed her rising property taxes. Another woman just a few blocks away was sitting in her garage going through boxes of dented and damaged cans that she buys at a discount from the grocery store in order to save money and stay in her home.
There is a reason politicians share the stories of voters they meet along their travels. The country is filled with individuals taking responsibility for their lives and trying to do the best that they can. When you go out to talk to voters, you get exposed to lifestyles and views that you don’t come into contact with regularly, like the conservative radio employee with whom I spent 10 minutes arguing about the Fairness Doctrine (don’t ask). I may not have convinced them all to vote for my guy, but I learned a lot in the process.
On the drive back to Manhattan I realized I now knew more about these people than I did about any of the people living in my building. Despite the diversity of our city, New Yorkers can often wind up living in a political bubble. We talk to our friends, our family and people at work, most of whom are similar to us in age, income and political persuasion, and the rest of the city passes by anonymously.
Jeff Williams is a lawyer living on the West Side. He is vice-president of the Ansonia Independent Democrats.
RAISING MCCAIN IN THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE
By Matthew Hindin
After weeks of campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Palin in Manhattan, a few weekends ago I headed to Philadelphia in a van with a dozen other McCain Manhattan volunteers. The polls and recent history suggested that while New York was Obama territory, Pennsylvania was a key swing state that could go either way and decide the election. We went to the northeast Philadelphia McCain campaign headquarters, and they gave us walkbooks containing maps of the houses we would visit and surveys for the people we would interview.
From the moment I set foot in northeast Philly, I could feel the palpable difference in the political climate. In Manhattan when I wear a McCain T-shirt, I get dirty looks, and when I march with other McCain supporters holding signs, we get boos, jeers, epithets, vitriol, “Obama” chants, middle fingers and worse. The general tone is “how dare you support a Republican in my liberal city.” But as I walked through northeast Philly, in Pennsylvania, a so-called battleground state, the environment was far more peaceful.
I walked around in a McCain/Palin shirt holding a clipboard, and when I crossed paths with a woman in an Obama shirt, also holding a clipboard, we smiled at each other, knowing that we were both foot soldiers on the same battlefield. And when I passed the “civilians,” mere residents of Philadelphia, I received no dirty looks. Later, after a day of knocking on doors and talking to people, I realized that these people, whether they supported McCain or Obama or were still undecided, all accepted the fact that their state was a swing state, and understood that both campaigns would be coming to their city to court their votes.
That Saturday, there were two other people in Philadelphia trying to court voters. At 10:45 a.m., I walked past the Mayfair Diner, and I saw people dismantling a stage. One of the workers was wearing a “Stagehands for Obama” T-shirt, and I wondered whether his boss let him wear that, or forced him to wear that. A few minutes later, I learned that I had just missed Barack Obama himself. He had just given a speech outside the diner, and talked to people inside, too. Later, one of the people I interviewed told me that the Mayfair Diner was a famous stop for politicians, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. Rather than being excited for Obama’s visit, she was concerned about the traffic. Later that night, across town, Sarah Palin dropped the puck at the home opener for the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, like Ohio or Florida, was the place to be to influence the outcome of this most important presidential election. If my efforts made even one person more likely to vote for John McCain on Nov. 4, then I was successful. I loved talking to the blue-collar voters, and I loved campaigning for McCain in Philadelphia.
Matthew Hindin is a corporate attorney who lives and works in Midtown Manhattan. He is on the Campaign Committee of the New York Young Republican Club, and he is a captain for McCain Manhattan.
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