Report from Political Ground Zero, May 7

Between volunteering for Obama and my children’s sports schedules the last week, I haven’t been able to blog-as-it-happens—and a lot has been happening here. It’s been the most exhilarating political experience I can remember. First some observations about the outcome here in Indiana and then some stories about specific events. And yes, we got to meet him–again–this time, in person.

By now you know that Clinton took Indiana by the barest of margins. In my book, it’s as good as a 5-point win for Obama. Every single elected Dem pol was lined up behind her, from Evan Bayh on down. The unions were afraid to say anything publicly in support of Obama for fear of pissing off Bayh. The mayors in the Calumet region—Lake and LaPorte Counties in NW Indiana—GAVE THEIR EMPLOYEES THE DAY OFF YESTERDAY—talk about your not so subliminal signals. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about an improper use of tax dollars about that (but then maybe the Republicans haven’t heard about it yet). And still Obama won Lake County so handily he came damn close to winning the entire state.

It comes down to this: Hillary is essentially the Republican in this race. She reliably wins the white racist, rural, and elderly votes (sometimes these categories overlap). She won all the rural counties, but some of them were a lot closer than it appears. Montgomery County, home of Wabash College, was green (Obama) most of the night but she ended up winning there by only 100 votes. My county, Tippecanoe (home of Purdue University), went for Obama by 18 points. He also won the counties where the cities of Indianapolis, Bloomington, Ft. Wayne, Elkhart, and South Bend are located, in addition to Gary. I had hoped he’d win Evansville, too, since he spent so much time there, but no. Obama took the urban areas, youth vote; the young professionals; the educated; the high-income people, and, of course, the Af-Am vote (1 in 7 Indiana voters). It bodes well for the fall; it bodes well for our keeping our D-majority congressional delegation (and maybe even picking up a seat). Turnout was stratospheric. Over 1,000,000 people voted in the D primary. In my county, turnout was triple that of 2004. 200,000 new D voters registered this year. We are going to keep them involved and voting Democratic as long as the process doesn’t screw him out of the nomination. As Porter Shreve wrote in the NYT on May 1, occasionally Indiana faces forward.  This was one of those moments.  We may still turn red in the fall, but it will be a lot closer than comfortable for the RNC.

And now some stories from the campaign front:

1. Phone-banking last week, I talked to three undecided women voters, one of whom was a single mother. All 3 of them decided to vote for Obama when we were done. (I hope they did.)  The issues were the war, the economy, and America’s role in the world.  Not one mentioned the Rev. Wright.

2. Friday, I went canvassing in a neighborhood in West Lafayette. Lots of people weren’t home. I wrote notes on every piece of lit I left at a “not at home,” included my phone number, and signed my name. On Sunday, I got a phone call from one lady who had been undecided but had now determined to vote for our guy.

3. Saturday, I spent the day in Indy, at Joseph’s travel soccer game. But because I canvassed Friday, we were eligible to go to the Obama skating party that night in Lafayette, hosted by the campaign for 100 working class families. The event was billed as “quality family time” for the Obamas, whose daughters came along (they had just been at a picnic in Noblesville, right next to the fields where Joseph had played that afternoon; I didn’t know he was going to be there, but we dashed home quickly in order to make the skating party). If this is what passes for “quality family time” on the campaign trail, my heart breaks for the Obamas, because they moved in a continuous media scrum that never let up the entire time. Barack and Michelle spent an hour shaking hands, posing for pictures, and signing anything put in front of them. I must say that she hasn’t yet learned to sign her name quickly—his is a big “B” with a line and then a big “O” with another big line, while her signature is precise and eminently readable.

Alright, now for the moment you’ve been waiting for. After screaming frantically to the twins, who were out skating like normal children (as were Malia and Sasha), to come and join us, we waited for the Senator to make his way through the line to us. (Joseph never did come off the floor; he later admitted that he heard me but just didn’t bother to find out what I wanted. In the car going home, he was hysterical at missing the picture. Can anyone teach me how to photoshop him into the picture?) I introduced the kids and Keith to him. Helen had her line all ready: “Senator, if you need a babysitter on Election Night, I’m free,” she declared, all confident and happy, as if she talked to U.S. Senators and future presidents every day of the week. Margaret and Phillip were more shy; they shook his hand, and if they said anything, I don’t remember what it was.

Now, as for me: this time (as opposed to my first memorable interaction with him) I managed to get out my name and the fact that I’m a historian. I handed him the beautiful pamphlet of his Philadelphia race speech to sign, and as he wielded the Sharpie, I mentioned that I was the person who asked him the question about the Supreme Court at Jefferson High School. My grand plan was to seque into name-dropping Austan and the ABF quickly and offering our collective intellectual support. I never got to the second part of the plan. He looked up at me, right in the eyes, and said, “I remember you.” I said, “No, you don’t.” (Really. I did.) He said, “Oh, yes, I do; it was one of the last questions, and you were up in the balcony.” Game absolutely over. I was brain-fried yet again. Totally jello.  (At this point, Helen was jumping up and down with abandon and excitement.  I had assured her he would not remember.)  I said something like, “Oh, that’s really bad.  You’ve got far more important things to keep inside your head these days.” And then he turned to pose for the picture (LB has it and can post it here) and was gone before I could recollect myself and say anything about the ABF.

I’m not the only person who had this experience with him. Another volunteer told me he remembered her, too, and one of the paid campaign operatives told me today as we cleaned out the office that Barack is really good at remembering people. It reminds me of something I read on he had a reputation for taking extremely minimal notes while at law school. I always hated people like that, because I secretly envied them. But now I realize it has a higher purpose, in the right hands.

4. Visibility at the polls yesterday: I encounter white racism, and it is not pretty. There are some fairly  obvious ways that white people express their fear of Obama, and that fear owes largely to the fact that he is black.  One way is to proclaim that he’s stupid and doesn’t know what he is talking about. That’s easy to decode: he’s black, therefore he is unintelligent on *everything* and need not be engaged at all. Another (expressed by a crotchety, cranky elderly couple) is to delcare that he has transgressed proper manners:  he exhibits an “attitude” in simply running and that it’s in “bad taste” for him to campaign; i.e., the uppity black doesn’t know his place.  By extension, I was guilty of this offense against decorum (and my race, presumably) by holding up his sign at the polls. This came through in a torrent of invective so irrational that I could only laugh aloud, which made both of them even more angry. As they turned to go, I wished them a good day. The man turned back and said, “Well, I wish you the opposite.” I said, “I still wish you a good day.” He gave up. I refuse to monger hate, even with the hateful.

During the day, a few people challenged my right to stand near the polling place with an Obama sign.  Thankfully, there was a legal observer from the campaign who knew exactly how far away we were required to be. We were well beyond the line drawn by the poll workers to indicate the 50-foot minimum required by state law. Nonetheless, people hostile to our candidate complained, argued, or denied our right to be there. Cheerful rebuttals combined with these voters’ own desire to get away quickly made those moments pass.  I count these people as obvious non-supporters, most likely Republicans rather than Hillary voters.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t assume that any vote for Hillary was a vote against Barack on account of his race. But the exit polls in IN bore out the impressions we got in PA—namely, that about 10% of the D electorate votes on the basis of race and won’t vote for a black candidate when opposed by a white D. Whether these voters will vote for a R if the choice is a black D versus McCain is impossible to tell from the exit poll data. I suppose there’s a certain percentage of the general U.S. voting population that won’t vote for Obama under any circumstances. And I also think there’s the other part of the curve—a certain percentage that wouldn’t vote for McCain under any circumstances. So I’m not terribly concerned about the effect of race on the election this fall. Rev. Wright can be dredged up again and again but with less effect the more frequently he appears. I suspect the Swift Boaters will find something else. It will get really ugly this fall, no doubt about it. But Obama held the high road the last 2 months, as tough as that was, and he came out ahead. Of that he, and we, can be truly proud.

So now that it’s over here, how do you think Clinton should be prevailed upon to withdraw? Do you hope her donors will pull the plug? If you’re Obama, do you get the uncommitted superdelegates to parade to the mikes and pledge their support? (Apparently Heath Schuler, R-NC, endorsed Hillary today; how stupid is that? maybe his congressional district went for her and he’s following those results.) Tim Russert and Pat Buchanan both called Obama the nominee last night. When will everyone else follow suit?


10 Responses to Report from Political Ground Zero, May 7

  1. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Vicky — Thanks for the great post. I don’t usually quote George Will, but since we both seem to like Sen. Obama and baseball, and since I’m feeling just a bit snarky this morning, I thought I’d share this:

    Hillary Clinton, 60, Illinois native and Arkansas lawyer, became, retroactively, a lifelong Yankee fan at age 52 when, shopping for a U.S. Senate seat, she adopted New York state as home sweet home. She may think, or at least would argue, that when she was 12 her Yankees really won the 1960 World Series, by standards of “fairness,” because they trounced the Pirates in runs scored, 55-27, over seven games, so there.

    Unfortunately, baseball’s rules — pesky nuisances, rules — say it matters how runs are distributed during a World Series. The Pirates won four games, which is the point of the exercise, by a total margin of seven runs, while the Yankees were winning three by a total of 35 runs. You can look it up.

  2. nobamakoolaid says:

    Vicky, you obviously have a great deal of enthusiasm for the Senator. Sounds like you had a ball stumping for him all week. I hope you get your wish in November.
    Let me respectfully disagree with a couple of your comments. “Hillary is essentially the Republican in this race. She reliably wins the white racist, rural, and elderly votes…” I am certain you did not mean it the way I read it, but through the eyes of someone who has supported Hillary since the beginning, I was somewhat offended. I only fit into one of three categories following your logic. Hmm, let me see. I’m in Chicago, so not rural. I do not qualify for an AARP card, so not elderly. Only one category left and I am white, so by default…

    Later you characterized pretty much anyone who voiced displeasure at your campaigning near a polling place as racist. I have been to polling places where somebody stands near the legal line championing a candidate I disdain. It really gets your blood boiling. It is a charged atmosphere. People can disagree on many legitimate grounds other than racism.

    I am not trying to pick a fight. I have never met you in person, but I have read enough of you here to know that you do not intend to imply that everyone opposed to Obama is a racist; but I did feel that way on my initial reading. My candidate has essentially lost. Now it is time for me to quit whining and support the Democratic nominee. I hope all other Hillary supporters will do the same. I fear some will not if they think they are being snubbed for not having been enlightened enough to support Obama from the beginning.

  3. vickywoeste says:

    koolaid, I was trying to give a rough, general profile of Hillary voters in IN, not anywhere else. Also my observations about racism were pinned specifically to what I witnessed Tuesday. I thought the preamble to my post made that clear; I could have taken the time to frame it more carefully but I was just trying to post promptly. Of course I don’t believe all Hillary’s supporters are rural, elderly Klan members. More than anything I want party unity and if my candidate had lost I’d want to feel that the other side was extending a gracious hand. So please know that I respect your sensibilities at this moment and did not mean to offend.

    I appreciated what you wrote about patriotism and supporting an end to the war. Since I always opposed the attack on Iraq (Afghanistan being a morally and politically different case), I was drawn to Obama early on.

  4. lbsmom says:

    Thanks, Vicky, for such a vivid account of primary day in Indiana. I spent a week during the summer on the beautiful Purdue campus, & my two strongest memories are: corn fields as far as I could see from the bus, & the other was the heat! So I’ll be thinking of you as you campaign for Obama this summer. Thank you ahead of time.

    LB’s dad & I have a bet on when Hillary might pull out. He says when the money runs out, but I rebut that she’s only spent about 20 million, so that leaves around 80 left. I don’t think she’ll quit until she has no choice. If she could gut through all that Bill/Monica fiasco (and others) & its embarrassment, I say she’s tough enough to just keep focusing on her goal & tune out everything else.

  5. nobamakoolaid says:

    Vicky, thank you. I could have been more tactful in expressing my thoughts, but nobody has ever accused me of that particular trait. Politics has a way of raising our collective blood pressure only because we actually give a damn. I have felt your sincerity in your many posts and am glad that we stand together on a great majority of issues. The next six months will be an important time and I will feel much better where I am going knowing there are people like you fighting for what I believe in back home.

    LB, perhaps you could add “Tact in Politics” as a seminar subject. I would pay NU for another full quarter just to watch you teach that one.

  6. robertlnelson says:

    Great post, Vicky. Thanks to you and other grass roots workers for making Indiana close enough to virtually wrap up this nomination. I think you and the family got to touch a bit of history. Very cool.

    I think we all will have to find ways to deal with not so subtle bias this fall.

  7. vickywoeste says:

    Judy, you were here last summer and we didn’t know about it?????? Yes, lots of corn (or could have been soy; they alternate) and it’s hot here, but then you know what Chicago’s like in the summer.

    Koolaid, it’s one of the great things about American politics that we are free to give a damn. Happily for me, I’m on a migraine drug that keeps my blood pressure really low; perhaps that explains why I kept my cool on Tuesday.

    The kids will never forget the experience of meeting the Senator, Mrs. Obama, and the kids. Helen and Margaret went back and met Michelle separately from my conversation with her (everyone abandoned me after Barack moved on, while I waited to speak with her). She was gracious and sweet, but a bit reserved. From what the girls reported, though, she was a lot more relaxed with them. Of course, it helps that Margaret is Malia’s age, and Helen promised to watch out for the Obama girls on the rink. They were not experienced skaters, but they were also unafraid to try, despite the media and the crowds. Sasha in particular has her dad’s extroversion.

    Bob, I’m happy to report that I gave Michelle my ABF business card. I guess you all can understand why that was a lot easier to do than it was to get it into Barack’s hand. At the end of the night, as he was leaving the rink, one of our city councilmembers was talking to me about his twin 3-month-olds (one of whom is named Victoria!). He gave one of his cards to a media person to hand to the Senator for an autograph, so I gave one of mine to go along for the ride too. We were hoping he’d sign them and give them back before they left, but I didn’t get it back. Maybe he actually held onto it . . . doubtful, but still a chance.

    The Trib says that the Obama campaign plans a “we won the nomination” rally for May 20, the night of the Oregon primary. I suspect Hillary will wait until the end of the month to see what the DNC rules committee decides. But I actually hope she’ll quit after winning West Virginia. From what I can tell, Obama’s campaign plans to make Kentucky competitive–she doesn’t have the money to run ads there, and I can tell you Obama pours money into mailings, literature, and the grass roots ground game. If they could make Indiana close (20,000 votes!) I suspect they can do the same in Kentucky–make it close enough that even a win for her is not good enough to silence the critics. If that’s all she comes away with, she may finally be persuaded that there is no reason to go forward. But if she won’t listen to Bill on this, who is going to be the bearer of the bad news?

  8. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Not worth a post by itself, but a good analysis of Hillary 2.0 (or 3.0 or 4.0, it’s hard to keep track), is this article by Jonathan Chait in New Republic.

  9. lbsmom says:

    Vicky–I should have said when I was at Purdue, because it was a long time ago, back in the late 1980’s.
    Jeff–Thanks for the link above describing the differences between liberal & conservative populism. The latter certainly sounds more self serving than the former. I hadn’t seen the Hillary quote “hard-working Americans, white Americans” before, but I’m not surprised since I stopped reading about her speeches/interviews. At my age, I have thought she might be my chance to see a female president, but the primary season has shown me her true colors. Sad…..

  10. lbsmom says:

    oops–two more things. One to Vicky–last night I dreamed I was one of 3 people in a car. I was in the back seat, Obama was in the passenger front seat & some guy I didn’t recognize was driving. Obama & I had a great conversation about his campaign, his kids & wife, etc. And when it was his turn to drive, he ran the car off the road! I believe your post inspired the dream, but what was in my subconscious about his driving? Honestly, I do believe he’ll make a terrific president.

    The other oops is my bad grammar in the previous post. I meant to say I HAD thought Hil would be my…..Should always reread before clicking on submit. Sorry.

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