The Barack Obama presidential campaign is setting records in promoting grassroots participation and involvement in the political process. The early caucus and primary attendances were formidable throughout the country. Some polling places reported having run out of ballots and turning people away.
It has even given rise to discussion regarding the extension of voting time on a national scale. It can hardly be denied that much of the voting increase was attributable to the abundance of young and other first-time voters stimulated by the Barack Obama campaign.
Obama’s overnight rise to popularity and appeal among the young has not been seen in American politics since the early sixties when “Clean Gene” McCarthy and his young college followers successfully forced Lyndon Johnson to abandon seeking a second term in the White House. The difference in those incidents and now is that McCarthy’s rise was primarily an East Coast phenomenon, whereas the Obama surge has targeted all 50 states. It has not just singled out certain “battleground” states or large metropolitan areas.
Minnesota is a good example. It has only 10 electoral votes to offer, yet the Obama people have seen fit to place 13 offices in the state, each equipped with a well-oiled cadre of operational staff. The offices are located strategically throughout the state.
These offices serve as gathering points for recruiting volunteers who fan out to spread the word of the Obama renaissance. According to Dominick Washington, political director of Obama’s Minnesota campaign, there are at present some 10,000 active Obama campaign volunteers in the state, and the count is growing daily.
Washington himself is an interesting study of the Obama lure for young people. He might even be considered typical of the group.
He is a college-educated young man whose wife is expecting their first child within three months. (He is sure that it will be a girl and has a name already picked for her.) Yet he quit his comfortable job in the corporate world, sustaining a considerable monetary loss, to join the Obama troop because he felt that he could make a contribution. And, he feels a sense of pride for having made the transition.
As political director, Washington’s job primarily entails enlisting the support of certain groups or categories of peoples such as Hispanics, African Americans, Latinos, fraternal groups and veteran’s groups. When asked how he could expect support from veteran’s groups when the opposition is a veteran hero who was a prisoner of war for several years, Washington’s reply was sharp:
“Indeed we do get help from veterans. They admire McCain for his Air Force service but damn him for his record in Congress. He has voted against many veteran bills. There is an organized group that we work closely with called Minnesota Veterans for Obama.”
Washington acknowledges that his job has been made harder by the emergence of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate, but he says that overall her presence does not represent any permanent danger for the campaign. He says that the bulk of her support is coming from the socially conservative faction of the party that has been displeased with McCain as the nominee selection and probably would not have voted at all if someone of her ilk had not been chosen to run with him.
“Furthermore,” he stated emphatically, “we are not building just for this election; we are building with grassroots people of all persuasions to create a better America.” Something in the tone of his voice convincingly conveyed the sincerity of his belief.
Asked how he reconciles the fact that a recent Star Tribune poll shows McCain and Obama tied in the state, Washington gave little credence to the findings of those polls. He did acknowledge that there had been some movement in polls since the RNC convention was held here in Minnesota and the exposure of the Sarah Palin phenomena.
“Furthermore, polls are indications of a point in time,” he said. “That survey was taken during the height of the RNC convention. If the polling were taken today, I’m sure the results would be different.”
A little more about Dominick Washington, since he is destined to be much of the Obama brain trust in the state until the election: He is an upper-Midwesterner by birth — born, reared and educated in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His parents had migrated from rural Mississippi in the early ’70s. He attributes his educational ambition and desire to be a part of public discourse to his great aunt’s influence. She was a teacher who in the ’60s worked with the likes of Medgar Evers in the Civil Rights Movement.
An opportunity to work as an assistant in the Washington, D.C., office of Senator Tom Daschel, Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota, was another force that drew Dominick Washington into the public service sector. He was with the office during the 9/11 disaster as well as during the period of the anthrax scare. In fact, he says that he had an assignment in the White House during the 9/11 incident and was exposed to the upheaval that it created.
Washington seems to think that out-state and rural Minnesota is proving to be not as difficult in the selling of Obama as one might think. With a few notable exceptions, he and much of his cadre are finding that for the most part those people who have not been exposed to diversity are more concerned with a candidate’s political philosophy than the color of his skin.
“There are exceptions,” he hastened to add, “but I don’t think that [such exceptions] are as prevalent as in the larger cities.”
His undying confidence in the inevitability of Obama becoming the next president on November 4 may be a job prerequisite, but Washington is as certain of success as he is of the changing of the seasons, both in Minnesota and nationally. “There isn’t an iota of doubt in my mind,” he stated.
Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.