Wednesday, November 05, 2008

One great irony last night was that the finest moment in John McCain’s campaign proved to be his concession speech, perhaps the most magnanimous, gracious & even, yes, patriotic I have ever heard. I listened to it thinking that if McCain had just used that same approach to his entire campaign, he could have made a much closer race of it.

Of course, McCain had a lot of time to work on that address so that he could get it just right. McCain has known for weeks that he was going to lose. As I’ve told several friends from the west coast who have called in their panicky moments to ask what it was about Pennsylvania that caused McCain to be campaigning here so much, it was precisely because he knew that he was going to lose that he focused on Pennsylvania at all. He needed to challenge for a blue state just to be able to show his supporters that he was seriously trying to win, knowing full well that he was going to lose several of the legacy red states from the Bush era. Pennsylvania seemed like a credible ploy. Without it, his campaign had no chance and his fundraising would have dried up six weeks ago, making yesterday far more of a blow-out than it proved to be. Pennsylvania has more rural citizens than any other state in the union. While its two cities may be great metropolises, the third largest is just over 100,000 people. This is a state that sent Rick Santorum (Sarah Palin in pants) to the U.S. senate not once, but twice. McCain knew that the polls were always correct about Pennsylvania, but he also knew that he could argue for the plausibility of a larger-than-usual “Bradley effect” here than elsewhere. As it turned out, there were states that McCain would have lost had he not had that end-of-campaign financing, including Arizona. So focusing here was not a bad idea, just one that openly conceded that he was going to lose. Once Obama picked Biden & McCain failed to pick Ridge, the deal was sealed. 

I got up yesterday at 4:30 AM in order to get out to Phoenixville where my poll-watching assignment had been moved late Monday night. I needed to be there at 6:00 AM when the local election officials set up their equipment to make sure that the M1 vote scanning machine & the lone iVotronix or whatever it’s called (used in Chester County only when a voter insists on doing so instead of the paper ballot), both read 000 at the start of the day, to check out who had gotten absentee ballots (44 voters) and who had returned them (just 32), and then to check off which of the Obama “target voters” came in to vote so that our get-out-the-vote work later in the day could focus on just those who had failed to show. In a precinct of 1203 registered voters (maybe 200 of whom were dead or had moved away since the registrations have not been purged in several years), Team Obama had identified 465 votes for their candidate that could be counted on in this precinct. In the 46 years that I’ve been doing election-day volunteering for the Democratic party, I’d never seen a list that included so many disaffected Republicans, but that proved to be true all day yesterday. Obama did very well among the GOP here in Chester County, which is how he won this still very Republican “horse country” exurb.

After my three-hour shift I returned to Paoli to vote, where long lines snaked out into the parking lot, but steady movement forward kept the wait to just a half hour. Then time for a quick lunch with Krishna before heading over to a local catering firm in whose back offices the Obama canvassing operation was headquartered. I took a route that amounted to one-sixth of my own precinct and was reminded (once again) just how labor intensive suburban canvassing is compared with the work I used to do in San Francisco where you could focus on one or two city blocks and reach enough people to be certain that you added at least five or six votes that otherwise would not have occurred. As I walked my precinct, I managed to turn out just one vote that I knew for certain was the result of my labor, but partly this was because so many people had already gone to the polls. The truth was that, by mid-afternoon, I’d run into the last non-voter I would find all day. After three hours of door-to-door, I headed over to a local title insurance firm that has been lending its offices for a phone bank and where I worked right up until 7:45 PM. Again, also for the first time in over 40 years, I did not find any people who had yet to vote, and my going was made slower by people who wanted to thank me for what I was doing. If you have ever done this sort of work, you know just how rare that is.

Not that any of this was by now a great surprise. When I was poll-watching it Phoenixville, it became quite clear by 9:00 AM that somewhere between 90 and 100 percent of the Obama “target voters” – people who had already indicated to volunteers that they were voting for him – were going to turn out. I have never seen anything like that before in my life. I was just one of 1.1 million Obama volunteers yesterday. Unquestionably the get-out-the-vote effort was the greatest single act of community organizing in this nation’s history.

In the past week my team has won the World Series, and my candidate just threw the GOP out of the White House. I should buy a lottery ticket.