Pushing the swing state one last time



By Paolo Cisneros

Sometime early Tuesday morning, before the sun rises, the alarm clocks of more than 30 Barack Obama supporters in Champaign-Urbana begin to ring. Obama groups have made plenty of trips to canvass in Indiana before, but this day was special. Today, the supporters will travel to the swing state in hopes that their candidate will be president-elect by night’s end.

6:46 a.m. Nine supporters have congregated at the Union where they pile into a van before heading out. Most are students, but there are a few who aren’t. Everyone, though, is clad in Obama T-shirts, stickers and buttons.

7:11 a.m. Everyone is exhausted. Excited, but exhausted. It doesn’t take long for most of the van to fall asleep.

7:33 a.m. A little less then an hour after departing, they cross the state line into Indiana.

8:50 a.m. They arrive at an Obama office in a residential area of Indianapolis. Groups of volunteers are receiving instructions from campaign workers about their duties for the day. After registering, so do they. The volunteers are given addresses of local Obama supporters and told to spend only about 30 seconds at any given house. They are simply to encourage the voters to head to the polls (as long as they are, in fact, Obama supporters). Phil David, a volunteer from Seattle, tells the group that today is the day to get committed Obama voters to the polls, not to convince those who are still undecided.

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9:19 a.m. The group heads out from the campaign office. University graduate student Dan Zaharopol, the group’s driver, develops a system of drop-offs and pickups. Teams of two are assigned to a neighborhood. When they’re done, he picks them up and drops them off at the next stop.

9:21 a.m. They head to an apartment complex to drop off the first team. Dan tells the group that if landlords give them any trouble, the volunteers should tell them they are performing an act of voter suppression and that they’ll be hearing from a lawyer. “Yeah, and then challenge them to a duel!” says graduate student Shane Binkin.

9:43 a.m. Binkin and his first partner of the day, Libby Kelley, senior in AHS, have arrived at the apartment complex, but so far, they are not having much luck. Out of nine doors they’ve knocked on, only one has been answered. They expected that to be the case, though, since most people are at work.

10:30 a.m. The responses the volunteers have received have been varied. Seconds after having a door slammed in their face by an old man wearing a scowl and a stained sleeveless shirt, a locksmith across the street notices a volunteer team’s Obama T-shirts and starts chanting, “O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!” But now it’s time to get back in the van.

11 a.m. They arrive at a different apartment complex, and this time Jess Brown of Urbana and Frances Sun of Champaign are making their rounds. These buildings, like the first ones the group visited, are dark, decrepit and smell like old cigarette butts. Still, the pair speak with several residents and encourage them to get out and vote for Obama.

11:27 a.m. The supporters are back at the campaign office hoping to pick up more addresses to visit, but officials tell them that they don’t have any more. In fact, they meet one woman who came to volunteer and was turned away. They’re directed to a different office in a more upscale, rural part of town.

12:17 p.m. The group is back on the road after a brief lunch break. Members discuss what types of food Obama likes. “I’ve heard he likes trail mix,” says Katy Steele, senior in LAS.

1:45 p.m. Other teams have been dropped off in different parts of town. In the last 15 minutes Zaharopol has driven down Straw Hat Drive, Foolish Pleasures Drive, Prairie Dog Drive and Candy Spots Lane. This state is starting to get weird.

3:57 p.m. Teams have spent the entire afternoon canvassing, and while they report at least a couple of negative responses to their campaigning, most people received them well, they say. Now, though, it’s time for everyone to get back in the van and head home.

4:12 p.m. The group meets with other Champaign-Urbana-based volunteers at the campaign office. Students for Barack Obama President Jake Hendee stops to thank everyone for their hard work. Half of the group is headed back to Champaign, and the other half to Chicago for the Obama rally in Grant Park.

7:50 p.m. Half of the group arrives, exhausted and starving, at the Illini Union. It’s dark, and while it’s far from being late, the long day’s toll is apparent on the volunteers’ faces. All that’s left to do is wait. And for the Obama supporters who made the trip, that just might be their biggest challenge yet.