“Hi, is Gary there?”
“Hi Gary, I’m Drew with Senator Obama’s Presidential Campaign here in Ohio, how are you today?”
“I’m a Republican, I always vote for Republicans and will never vote for a damn Democrat.”
It was an abrupt end to the conversation – but effective on Gary’s part (not his real name).
I was enjoying another Sunday afternoon – admiring the versatility of my MacBook Pro, cursing the ineptitude of my wireless Internet router, when Barack Obama Campaign e-mail #114,370,047 unceremoniously announced itself to my inbox (interrupting a movie). Surprisingly, they weren’t asking me for money. Which is good thing – cause I have none, and they’re going to need inspire America without matching my five dollars. Instead, Mr. Obama (cause it was really him sending a personal e-mail to me) asked to use my phone line. A little audacious, I thought, since I haven’t even met the guy. First, he asks for money, now to use my phone? It’s not as if his car is on the side of the road with a flat tire, so I’m a little disinclined. However, Barack explains he really needs my help – I mean, the e-mail in entitled “Dear Drew” so it’s a heartfelt appeal to me –he wants me to call “likely supporters” (Gary just kinda snuck in there) in Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas asking for their vote. He wants me to do it from my house.
Barack wants me to turn my house into a phone bank. I turn to Sean – my fellow Barack brother – and in a lofty, pretentious voice worthy of NPR recited the e-mail.
Jordan kept his head phones on, but he would’ve laughed too.
At this point, the only natural reaction is to agree with Barack and start making phone calls. Our phone has free long distance and I have a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with no practical application – we have free time, support Barack, and realize the limitless comic potential to come out of this. We hastily go to the phone-bank website, pull up our call list, and read the sample script. It’s your typical, stale, and probably the only legal way to call someone and ask for their vote script. You have your typical, Supporter Script (Kick ass, man! Do know where you are going? Do you need a lift? ‘Cause I can totally hook you up.), Clinton Script (Have a nice day), your refusal to answer script (Tha – click!), your message script (Please vote for Senator Oba – message deleted), and your undecided script.
The Undecided script starts out with these instructions – “Please feel free to share your personal stories on why you support Senator Obama.” Personal stories? I thought I was trying to get people to vote for Obama? This is politics – we don’t tell them our stories, we tell them their stories and pretend it’s our own. Sean isn’t gonna call Southern Ohio and tell them how he wants to save the environment (hippy) and I’m not gonna talk about getting out of Iraq (terrorist). It’s time to go West Wing on this – we grab polling and demographic data. With one desktop computer, two MacBook Pros, a desk, card table and piano bench we get to work.
In Brown County we learn they’re 98% white, getting old, lower middle class and the per cap sucks. We have a few other Southern Ohio counties, all roughly the same demographic. A revised undecided script is outlined – saving their social security, protecting their pension, and NAFTA does suck. We dial back the Universal Health Care talk – not having great polling data for Brown County (or Southern Ohio) we’re not sure how a socialistic sounding plan is gonna fly. Everyone hates a commie. We’ll stress, “affordable health care costs and prescription drugs” and “it’s portable!” We avoid saying “mandatory coverage of children” – cause that sounds like a commie, and everyone hates a commie.
The first batch of phone calls is inspiring – several phone messages, just as many hang-ups and “wrong numbers.” As I left another answering machine message – one man, picked up proclaimed his allegiance to Hillary and hung up. Another pitfall arises – I really like Iowa. In fact – I love Iowa, so much that when speaking to people in Ohio, my brain does some mental gymnastic and a little cognizant dissonance later I’m Drew from Obama’s Iowa campaign. They should vote in the Iowa primaries on Tuesday. In some cases, I was Drew from Iowa encouraging them to vote in Ohio. That was a little better; still what presumptuous Iowa asshole tells Ohio to vote? Me. For the record, I don’t how my brain works this – I’m still making the slip in head – the only semi-logical explanation I have is: Ohio can segue-way into Iowa – making Ohiowa.
I called for Jessica in Scioti – but instead got an older man who thought I was a woman. I was only about fifteen seconds into the phone call when he called me Ma’am. Now, I have a fairly manly voice. It’s not deep and intimidating, or soothing and sexy like the Senator – but you can tell I’m a guy. True, a little nasally, slightly high pitched – I was once described as a “voice bound for NPR” (thanks?), but a chick? Instead of artfully flipping the conversation to ask the man for Obama’s support – I politely excused myself from the conversation and laughed for five minutes.
In Franklin County, they’re 90% white, with a 7% black population – our most diverse county yet! They’re near Columbus, the dreaded Ohio State University, which while I despise on a football level, does offer my best shot of not getting hung-up on. I’m banking on these people being liberals who feel bad about my verbal stumbling and let me finish my spiel. Finally, my chance to shine. I call up and ask for Pauline, there’s a pause as a deep, manly voice on the other end asks who I am. I give the common spiel: Drew for Senator’s Obama Presidential Campaign in Ohio. The man tells Pauline, his wife, that the Obama people are on the phone. The exchange between them is positive – no curtailed laughter or dripping sarcasm about those “Obama people.” Pauline is mother of two (or so the voices in the background suggest) who just got back from grocery shopping and she’s a school teacher. I actually get to the end of my script: do you know who you’re gonna vote for? She pauses. I imagine she’s putting the food away as she was listening to my re-written scripted spiel. She says simply, “No, I haven’t decided yet.” I’m a little shocked, ‘cause she hasn’t hung up. I never gotten this far before, I’m on the third base of political campaigning and my third base coach isn’t anywhere to be found. So, like any ardent young man, I round third towards home and slide in headfirst; and like any ardent young man, I fumble on the baseline.
I disjointedly tell her about health care (“it’s portable!”) and the War in Iraq (“16 months…or something.”) and she politely cuts me off: “Yeah, I like that but what does he think of school vouchers?” Um, seriously Pauline? School Vouchers are so 2004 – seriously, no one cares about them in Michigan anymore. Not even teachers – they’re all freakin’ out about No Child Left Behind at this point. School vouchers? Really, Pauline, really? Why did you have to care? I take a moment to frantically look around for my education printout that in all the mess caused by being hung-up on, got lost on the floor. I stammer off things like “reward pay for teachers” and something about retention. After repeatedly stumbling down the third base line, I finally fall. “You know, I don’t know about school vouchers. He has a website that lays out his policies.” Awesome. I suck. “Sure, let me get a pen.” Um, seriously Pauline? You haven’t hung-up yet? After writing down the site name (and honestly, Pauline – you probably didn’t need a pen for that one) she thanks me. I’m confused. Why would she thank me? Did I actually help her? I wished her luck and said we were hoping for her support but really, I was still confused. After repeated hang-ups, answering machine messages, and anti-democratic/Obama/voting comments I actually got to talk to someone. I actually got to talk someone about my candidate and politics (just ignore the fact I didn’t have the answer). Nothing mystical or insightful happened, but hey, at least I failed miserably and can make an entertaining blog entry.
For the record, Pauline (who’s not reading or if she was, wouldn’t recognize her pseudonym) Obama has expressed his limited support for school vouchers. He’s okay with reviewing data from pilot programs and possibly introducing them on a limited basis. So, three months later, there’s your answer.