Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bi-racial coalition carried Obama to South Carolina landslide

OpEdNews, 2-1-08

Voters rejected the politics of division in historic Democratic turnout

Facing a loss in South Carolina, the Clintons did their best to spring a trap on Barack Obama. Their plan was to lower expectations for Hillary, while making an Obama victory appear meaningless. As an unnamed top Clinton adviser admitted to the Associated Press, they would paint Obama as “the black candidate” in a state where African-American voters were 47% of the Democratic primary electorate in 2004.

Until the polls closed, it looked like things were going according to schedule. Hillary signaled South Carolina wasn’t a priority by campaigning elsewhere for most of the week leading up to the primary, leaving Bill to tour the state on her behalf.

Pre-election polls seemed to show Obama’s support among white Democrats in S.C. slipping to 10%. A Wall Street Journal headline from the day before the primary epitomized the effects of the Clintons’ spin by proclaiming “To Truly Win in Carolina, Obama Needs Large Margin.” The reporter speculated Obama “will have to win by a double-digit margin in order for voters nationwide to perceive South Carolina as a real victory.”

But despite Bill’s pledge to go door-to-door for Hillary in the black community if necessary, black voters in South Carolina were turned off by the Clinton campaign’s increasing reliance on racially coded appeals against Obama.

One high profile episode occurred when Clinton supporter Bob Johnson, the billionaire head of BET, raised the specter of Obama’s drug use as a young man at a rally in Columbia, S.C. Defending an earlier comment by Hillary that “Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act," Johnson said, “that is the way the legislative process works in this nation and that takes political leadership. That’s all Hillary was saying.”

He then added, “Hillary and Bill Clinton…have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood –­ and I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in (his) book.”

When called on it, Johnson shamelessly denied he was talking about drugs, claiming “my comments today were referring to Barack Obama’s time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect.”

The month before, Billy Shaheen had been forced to step down as the co-chair of Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign when he first raised the drug use issue against Obama. But this time, the Clintons refused to disassociate themselves from Johnson’s remarks.

On the day of the primary, Bill tried to downplay the significance of an Obama victory by invoking the specter of Jesse Jackson. Asked by a reporter why it was taking “two Clintons to beat” Obama, he helpfully pointed out that "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."

Despite his groundbreaking career as an outspoken civil rights activist and the first black American to make a serious bid for the White House, (and to knee-jerk racists, because of these things), Jackson remains a controversial figure to some voters. As CNN commentator Roland Martin put it, Jackson “is beloved in black America but stirs hatred in many whites.”

Clearly, Bill was trying to tar Obama with a negative brush. Either by associating him with Jackson solely because both candidates are black, or trying to remind voters that Jesse ultimately came up short in his unsuccessful runs for the presidency.

Obama has already far exceeded Jackson’s performance in the early primary states. In nearly all-white (91%) Iowa, Obama won with 38% of the vote, versus Jackson’s 9% when he finished fourth in 1988. In New Hampshire, Obama was a close second to Clinton with 37%, compared with 8% twenty years ago for Jackson.

In 1984, Jackson won South Carolina with 25% of the vote, and in ’88 he won again with 54%. But in both years, South Carolina held caucuses, and turnout was less than a tenth of the number who voted in this year’s primary. And Jesse Jackson was born in South Carolina.

Jackson’s insurgent campaigns were chronically underfunded and ran on shoestring budgets. By contrast, Obama has assembled one of the biggest fundraising operations in the history of presidential politics, raising $103 million last year, and an astounding $32 million during January 2008. Significantly, his funds have come from both large donors and a diverse, nationwide network of small contributors.

One of the highest ranking white elected officials to back Jackson in 1988 was the Agriculture Commissioner of Texas, progressive Jim Hightower. This year, the Democratic party establishment is genuinely split between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Liberal icon Ted Kennedy is only the latest prominent white Democrat to endorse Obama, following John Kerry, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and a string of sitting Senators and Governors from red states including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The minute S.C. polls closed, major news organizations immediately called the race for Obama, based on exit polls showing his huge win. He ended up with 55% of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 27% and 18% for John Edwards.

As the shape of Obama’s landslide victory became clear, the Clintons (and reporters who fell for their race-baiting spin) were left with egg on their faces. Obama won more than twice as many votes as Clinton. He beat Clinton among independents by 40% to 23%. He carried black voters by a 4-1 margin.

But he also won a quarter of white voters, far more than the 10% forecast by pre-election polls. He won a majority of white voters under 30. He won nearly as many white men as Clinton. Obama probably would have done even better among white voters without S.C. native son John Edwards in the race, who took 40% of the overall white vote.

Carol Fisher, a middle-aged white voter from Greenville, South Carolina, explained her vote for Barack Obama when interviewed outside the polls. “I was just voting for, to me, the most attractive candidate overall. It had nothing to do with the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman, so I would want to vote for her. I just think I’m voting for the best candidate.”

The competitive race sparked the second-highest voter turnout in history for a South Carolina primary - 530,000, just shy of the record 573,000 set in the 2000 Bush vs. McCain Republican primary smackdown. Even more amazing, voters who participated in the Democratic primary outnumbered the 446,000 who showed up for the Republican presidential contest a week earlier. It was the highest-ever Democratic turnout in the country’s most reliably Republican state.

One behind-the-scenes factor firing up the huge turnout was Obama’s impressive field S.C. organization, the best in the state among presidential contenders of either party. On primary day, Team Obama fielded an army of 9,000 volunteers, flushing out voters from 150 different staging sites across South Carolina. By comparison, Hillary Clinton’s emergency ground operation in New Hampshire that helped pull her to victory numbered only 4,000.

Unfortunately for the Clintons, their plan to put Obama in a black box backfired. Not only did Obama win by a bi-racial landslide, but Bill Clinton’s legacy as a uniter of black and white Americans is now at risk.

In his victory speech, Obama emphasized this election "is not about rich versus poor or young versus old, and it's not about black versus white. This election is about the past versus the future." A historic number of South Carolina voters seem to have agreed with him.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Baracking The Vote for Obama in South Carolina

DailyKos, TPMCafe & Triangle Share, 1-7-08

(Join volunteers from Triangle for Obama on Saturday, Jan. 26 in an election day caravan to South Carolina to get out the vote for Barack Obama. Take action to make change on this historic day! Volunteers will meet at Brier Creek Shopping Center, 8651 Brier Creek Pkwy, Raleigh. For more info, contact Carolyn Cameron @ (919) 321-2665 /, or visit the Triangle for Obama Meetup Group. Obama's South Carolina webpage is

UPDATE 1/27/08: To help put Obama over the top, over 50 Triangle volunteers headed to South Carolina on Jan. 26 to get out the vote. (Triangle volunteers stump in S.C., News & Observer, 1/26/08). They were part of an Obama army of 9,000 primary day volunteers, flushing out voters from 150 different staging sites across South Carolina. The GOTV efforts paid off when Obama won in a landslide with 55% of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 27% and 18% for John Edwards.

UPDATE 1/14/08: Approximately 35 Triangle volunteers joined together on Sat., Jan 12, meeting before dawn to caravan to South Carolina to canvass for the Obama campaign (Local Obama backers head to S.C., News & Observer, 1/11/08). That's fired up!

By M.L. Dexter and Erik Ose

Temo Figueroa, national outreach director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, had one question for the crowd of nearly 4,000 who turned out at a NCCU rally for Obama in early November. “How far is South Carolina?” he asked, while warming up the audience before the candidate took the stage. “Not far enough,” hollered back one supporter. But the gameplan was clear.

The Obama campaign was already thinking ahead, and touching down in Durham was as much about rounding up volunteers for South Carolina’s Jan. 26 primary as winning votes in North Carolina. Supporters who added themselves to the Obama campaign’s text message network at the rally were soon contacted and asked to make the journey south of the border. Which is how we ended up in Columbia, S.C. one weekend in December, canvassing and phonebanking likely Obama voters.

For us, driving from Chapel Hill, the answer to Teno’s question was about four hours. This was our second trip in two weeks, having also gone down to Columbia to witness Obama’s star rally with Oprah Winfrey.

We listened to Oprah testify to the audience that “Dr. King dreamed the dream, but we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality.” And watched as Obama brought the cheering, multi-racial crowd of 29,000 to its feet in a South Carolina football stadium, the first state of the old Confederacy to secede from the Union, with his stirring reminder that “The fire hoses came out, the dogs came out, but they kept on standing up. Because a few stood up, a few thousand stood up, and then a few million stood up, standing up with courage and conviction. They changed the world.” It was a historic moment.

We’ve volunteered and worked for political campaigns in the past, but this is the first time in several years we’ve both felt “fired up” about a candidate.

There were a lot of other volunteers on hand from neighboring states. A busload had driven up from Atlanta, and spent the day canvassing neighborhoods. Folks from Birmingham had come, too. And we met long-term volunteers, including a law student from UCLA who was spending his two-week Christmas break in Columbia, and a recent grad from Florida who had arrived a month earlier and was sharing an apartment with several other volunteers.

That weekend, the office was humming as volunteers struggled to process all 29,000 information cards that audience members had filled out as a condition of entry to the Oprah rally a week before.

Rally goers who had signed up as future Obama volunteers were being called and invited to organizational meetings across the state that coming week. Volunteers and staff members checked and updated each new name using the campaign’s existing database of registered voters and Obama supporters.

With every election cycle campaign technology improves, but we both felt Obama’s South Carolina operation was more organized than past campaigns we’ve worked on. And much more able to effectively harness volunteer energy, which is key for any successful campaign.

The fact that Team Obama asked for contact information from the 66,500 audience members who turned out for Oprah’s three-state endorsement tour was a smart move. In 2004, Bruce Springsteen held a concert rally for the Kerry-Edwards ticket in Madison, Wisconsin right before the November election, drawing a crowd of approximately 80,000. But no one knows for sure how many, because no tickets or personal information were collected.

“We estimated a good portion of them were new to the campaign and were hearing John Kerry for the first time,” said Stephanie Cutter, Kerry communications director. “The difference is we didn't sign those 80,000 people up to work for us in the Wisconsin general election. An endorsement is more than an endorsement when you're creating a field plan around it.”

Judging from the calls we made to volunteers who had signed on at the rally, their enthusiasm levels had cranked way up, and they were ready to work. More than a few exclaimed, “Fired up!” when they learned we were calling from Obama’s campaign. “I’ll be at the meeting, and I’m bringing my grandkids,” one woman told Erik. She was 80 years old.

“I’m coming straight from my job, but I’ll do it, and I can’t wait,” said a recent college grad. No problem getting there, every single person knew exactly how to get to the churches and other community locations where the organizational meetings were to be held.

In the afternoon, the campaign sent us out to canvass in a mostly black, core Democratic neighborhood near downtown Columbia. We visited houses with steep, crumbling, concrete steps and doors falling off their hinges. Just on one side on a short street, two of the hand-picked addresses of voters who had consistently voted for Democrats were now abandoned – one because of arson, the other just falling down.

We each took one side of the street. At first, our knocks on doors were mostly unanswered. Before we moved on to the next house on our lists, those silent doors received small brochures about why to consider voting for Obama.

Sometimes, people responded to our knocking. Suspicious faces appeared behind torn screen doors. Their first glances at us, white people carrying clipboards, must have meant nothing good to them, because their faces registered mistrust and wariness. We quickly learned to say right away, “We’re volunteers with the Barack Obama campaign.” This simple sentence allowed a conversation to begin, and literally led to doors opening. And always, the suspicion was replaced with real interest.

Walking between houses, M.L. was met by a young man coming towards her. She asked if he was registered to vote. He said he couldn’t vote because he was a convicted felon, but could get his rights restored if he paid some money, and should be able to vote in the next election. He said he would vote for Obama. Then he asked, “Do you think he’ll do anything about this?” as he pointed to the decrepit and empty houses on his street. M.L. said, “I think he’ll try,” and handed him a brochure.

With the black vote estimated to make up at least half of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina, it’s crucial for Obama to win by a large margin among black voters. For most of last year, he and Hillary Clinton ran roughly even. Post-Oprah, polls showed Obama pulling away. He led one CBS poll in mid-December by 52% of black voters to Clinton’s 27%, with John Edwards at 2%.

Several times, the folks we talked with said they were considering Obama, but “wanted to see how things shook out.” They hadn’t made up their minds, were leaning his way, just still didn’t know if Barack could go the distance.

This dovetails with how interviews with black voters in South Carolina have repeatedly shown they were uncertain white voters would support Obama. S.C. state senator Robert Ford is one of Hillary’s prominent African-American backers in the state. He made headlines last February by claiming that with an Obama nomination, “every Democratic candidate running on that ticket would lose because he's black and he's at the top of the ticket.”

Yet Obama’s Iowa win, and the increased turnout for the state’s Democratic caucuses (239,000 showed up, versus 125,000 in 2004) seems to show his potential for expanding the Democratic vote in November. The energy is clearly with the Democrats in 2008, hungry for change after the two-term debacle of George W. Only 108,000 dispirited Republicans voted in Iowa, less than half the numbers that turned out on the Democratic side.

With the presidential primary schedule compressed like never before, there’s little time for rivals Clinton or Edwards to play catchup. Obama’s convincing victory in Iowa gives him momentum leading up to New Hampshire’s primary, where the polls previously showed him neck and neck with Clinton. And if he wins both, the two whitest early states (91% non-Hispanic whites in Iowa, 94% in New Hampshire), the last obstacle to a tidal wave of support for Obama among black voters in South Carolina will have been swept away.

Obama reminds crowds at every stop how his energy got a boost in our neighboring state, when a Greenwood, S.C. city councilwoman named Edith Childs introduced him to the chant he now uses to get audiences “fired up and ready to go!

If the time proves right for an Obama presidency, a win in South Carolina on Jan. 26 will have done even more to pave the way.

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