The Marc Steiner Show

Dispatch from Indiana, Part 1, Saturday May 4th 2008

 

Hey folks – one of our interns, Christina Arrison, is in Indiana for the primary. She’s going to be sending us first-hand observations and thoughts from there for the next few days. By way of an introduction, here’s her first dispatch. 

-Justin 

The Dirty Truth

The public face of any political campaign is a polished, powdered, and prepped candidate hopping on and off planes, buses, and trains to deliver speeches in front of supporters and ever-present news cameras. But the dirty truth is that the real work of a campaign is done once the candidate rolls out of town, by an army of sleep deprived, underpaid, junk-food-stuffed, (usually) 20-somethings, who serve as the ground troops for the candidate. I’m a new intern at CEM, and I’m also wrapping up a stint working as one of those sleepy 20-somethings for a group of labor unions that have endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential primary. Since the endorsement I’ve worked in Columbus, Pittsburgh, and the suburbs of Philadelphia, and I’m currently on a plane headed back to Indianapolis for second stint there leading up to next Tuesday’s election. Justin asked me to write a little bit for the site about my experiences working in the primaries, so I’ll be sending a few dispatches from Indiana during these final, hectic days of campaigning.

The Hoosier View

The best part about being on the ground for three important primary contests has been the chance to talk to and work with people who are experiencing this election on an individual and personal level – people who, many for the first time, feel a meaningful connection to Washington and the process that puts politicians there. It’s a nice counterbalance to the Big Media view of the campaign – all scandal and spin and personal attacks and very little examination of what the election means to real people. It’s been four decades since the last competitive Democratic primary in Indiana. From what I’ve seen, many Hoosiers are a bit bemused by all of the attention – voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania are used to the swarms of canvassers and scads of robo-calls and TV ads from past general elections, but in Indiana, a solidly red state, many people are experiencing the invasion for the first time. Overall, though, I think people appreciate the attention and genuinely believe that their voice matters. Every day when our canvassers get back from the field they give reports of talking to voters who say that this is their first time voting, and that for once they think an election offers them a chance to concretely improve their lives – by getting better healthcare or livable wages, by ending the war, and for countless other reasons. We hear heartbreaking stories like the Katrina survivor with AIDS who can’t afford his pills, and asked our union volunteer to have the Obama campaign contact him to get him cheaper medication. But even if the personal connection to the campaign just involves a voter yelling at a canvasser to get off her property, or slamming down the phone on another prerecorded call, at least they are offered the chance to participate.

Rising Tensions

That being said, I am a little worried about the length and tone of the race. Even in just the three primaries I’ve worked on there’s been a shift in voters’ attitudes. When I knocked doors in Ohio, most of the Clinton supporters I talked to were firm in their choice, but polite. On the plane back to DC after the Ohio election, I was seated next to the president of the New York chapter of NOW, and we were able to chat relatively amicably about the election, she in her Clinton button, me in my Obama t-shirt. Canvassing in Pennsylvania, five weeks later, the tone had shifted. Lots more people yelled at me, balled up their flyers and threw them back, or slammed the door in my face. I remember walking up the driveway of one house just in time to hear the woman say to her neighbor "If I get ONE more thing from Obama I’m just going to-" I didn’t quite catch what she was going to do, as I was doing my best to blend in with the trees as I backed away. I think a lot of people (including some campaign staffers I know who literally have not had a day off in 15 months) are ready for this to end.

But in the meantime I hope that the next few days will provide some food for thought, and a chance to look at some of the issues that Indiana voters and the campaign workers and volunteers are thinking about.

-Christina Arrison

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Written by Marc Steiner

Marc Steiner

The Marc Steiner Show airs Monday thru Friday from 10AM to Noon on WEAA 88.9 FM. The show covers the topics that matter, engaging real voices, from Charm City to Cairo and beyond. Call us at 410.319.8888 or email us to participate live in the show, or share your comments on our site! Aren’t in Baltimore but want to listen? Stream the show live.


Comments

  1. Nice posts!

    Has research ever been done into the efficacy of canvassing? I’ve done a bit of ‘hitting the streets’ back in the day, and it just doesn’t seem to me that fliers nor short conversations with strangers will tend to have any significant impact on a race.

  2. Yup, there has been research done into it, and canvassing is surprisingly effective at getting people out to vote. The Brookings Institution just put out a new edition of a book of studies that showed that robocalls and direct mail have very little impact on an election, while canvassing is one of the most cost effective ways to influence voters. That’s another thing that keeps me going after hours of hitting the streets!

  3. I think it is a great idea to involve other voices.

    Thank you Christina, loved the firsthand impressions of the campaign and the note on the shift of attitudes…I am going through the same shift myself. At the beginning, although I was already leaning for Mr. Obama, still I liked both candidates. Now, I am having a really hard time with Ms. Clinton and with the way she is playing this campaign.

    Considering the fact that at this point her chances are close to nil, I am becoming really suspicious about her motives for keeping this up.

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