SAN JOSE, CA — This place is packed! Some forty phone bankers are pitching some major woo. They're doing a great job reading their scripts, except when they get to this part: "It's time to move beyond the polarizing politics of the past." Ok, sure, Scarlett Johansson pulls off this line in robo calls without a hitch, but for average people, it's kind of a persistently perilous problem. Chuck from Chicago, who's sitting next to me, has said the PPP at least 100 times, and he's still not sure he's mastered it. "I can't figure out how to make it sound natural," he said. It might be time to try out something else. Maybe our readers have some suggestions. Nattering Negativity of the Nineties?
SAN JOSE, CA — Polls in California close in four hours, but it might not be possible to declare a winner in the state until Wednesday morning.The high turnout, high numbers of absentee voters, and use of old-fashioned paper ballots in some areas (Diebold machines were nixed here as unreliable) means it will take a long time to tally everything. That said, the Obama folks in here in Santa Clara County hope their districts might be decided by around midnight, and I'll be here as long as it takes. If you're a true political junkie, stick with me. This is in many ways a belwether district--whoever wins here has a good shot at taking the majority of the state.
SAN JOSE, CA — Just now I was reading the California newspapers from my fold-out table in Obama HQ when a woman sat down at my elbow and logged into a MacBook. She hunted and pecked, fretting over her email. I figured her for just another first-time volunteer. Turns out she was U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, pecking out an email to the county's top voting official. You've got to love Lofgren--if not because she's campaigning for Obama, then for her ability to carry off the standard-issue DC pantsuit along with a very cool pair of blue-and-pink silk Chinese slippers.
Lofgren and her son had just come from eating lunch downtown at Teske's Germania, where she dines before every election. She'd ordered a gigantic pork shank. "It's kind of a good luck charm," she said. "I was going to actually order a salad because I've been trying to lose weight, but I didn't want to break the luck."
Lofgren has been in Congress for 14 years and has never seen an election bring in so many new volunteers. "In a Democratic event I walk in and I know everybody by name," she said, looking around the room. "These are all new people." Most volunteers didn't know her either--no crowd had gathered round until word got out who she was.
This is to be expected of a campaign that has harnessed a new wave of young voters. Several guys working the phones right now haven't even started growing facial hair. It's fun to watch these kids make things up as they go. This morning San Jose State student Sarah Bronstein was talking with another college kid about the Obama pitch they were reciting over the phone to voters. "It's a shitty script," she said. "They should write is as if someone is actually talking." So she tweaked it--one of countless of small examples today of DIY.
Excitement today goes beyond young people and Obama. This is the first time in recent history that California has played such a prominent role in choosing the presidential candidate, and the first time since the '50s that the election didn't feature an incumbent president or VP. Turnout is expected to resemble the much higher numbers of a general election. Of course, the bigger crowds at the polls have made snags more likely--which is why Lofgren has swooped in to fire off an email to the county elections chief. Obama staffers here had received a few reports that poll workers were incorrectly telling independent voters that they couldn't vote in the Democratic primary. If that problem becomes widespread, it would favor Clinton and hurt Obama, who polls better among independents.
Update: Lofgren's concern appears to have been merited. The Washington Post reports that confusion over independent voters and Democratic ballots has been widespread. Still, it does not yet appear to be a major factor in the race.
I'll be writing to you today from the Obama campaign office in San Jose, California. It's one of six Obama offices in the Bay Area, but the battle here will be one of the most closely fought and important anywhere in the state (more on this shortly). The office is a small storefront in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood just outside downtown. Inside, posters on the wall say, "Fired up!" and, for those who've been here a bit too long, "Bang head here." The space lacks any heat (save for two space heaters--any more and the circuit breaker pops) but the 20 people packing into the place are keeping things warm enough. I've sandwiched myself into a row of clicking laptops on a fold-out table in the middle of the room. Everyone is working on getting out the vote; whenever a phone-banker convinces someone to vote Obama, he rings a bell and the room erupts in applause.
The volunteers here have their work cut out for them. San Jose's CA-15 congressional district is one of only 22 in the state with an odd number of delegates; whoever wins 51 percent of the vote in these districts will automatically pick up an extra delegate. (Most California districts are even-delegate and will likely to split between the candidates 50/50). Only about half of the odd-delate districts in the state will be truly competitive. CA-15 is one of those: Here in the Bay Area, Obama leads Clinton overall, but San Jose is predominately working class and has more Latino voters than any other county in the region--two groups that tend to support Clinton.
A new, quasi-political party is aiming to form a "national coalition of peace candidates for U.S. House of Representatives" who will boot out Democrats and Republicans and then elect anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan as Speaker. Sound implausible? It is. But with Ralph Nader unveiling an exploratory website for yet another presidential bid this week, it's clear that third parties on the left see an opening: popular discontent with the inability of the Democratic Congress to end the war in Iraq. Don't expect many of these candidates to pull down more than a percent or two. Still, you have to wonder whether Nader or his acolytes would fare slightly better at the polls if Hillary Clinton--the Democratic bete noir of the radical anti-war movement--is the party's nominee for President. For more on this year's third party dynamic, check out my story on Sheehan's congressional race against Speaker Pelosi.