In case this article is your first stop after spending the last year or two cryogenically frozen: There’s a presidential election coming up. With Nevada likely to be one of the closest states in a close contest, I decided to look at a chance for involvement that’s open to everyone: volunteering for a campaign.
Typical opportunities include going door to door to present the candidate’s case, contacting prospective voters by phone or in person, distributing campaign materials and voter registration forms at public events, and participating in GOTV (Get Out the Vote) initiatives before and on Election Day. After very brief training programs, time commitments range from a couple of hours to however much time you wish to give. Volunteers also expand an organization’s knowledge base by reporting to campaign employees on their experiences in debriefing sessions.
Representatives from the Obama and McCain campaigns shared some of their valuable time with me. Both sides agreed that volunteers play a crucial role, especially in a battleground state.
“We couldn’t do without [volunteers],” said Paul Kincaid, of the Obama campaign. His colleague David Zhao concurred: “We can’t win without them.”
Didi Lima, of the McCain campaign, agreed. “Grassroots efforts are one of the key ingredients – in Nevada even more so,” she said.
Lima, a Cuban-American member of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, has been working for McCain since before the caucuses. During a career in casino management, she became the Sheraton Corporation’s first female food and beverage director.
Lima’s campaign efforts have centered on events like the recent San Gennaro festival, where her team distributed campaign materials and registered voters in an effort to ensure high turnout for her candidate. She said that besides benefiting McCain, volunteering is an excellent way for Valley residents to expand their social networks because volunteers meet and work with people they might not otherwise encounter.
She noted that in addition to Republicans, many independents and even some Democrats have joined the McCain organization; she attributes their enthusiasm to the Arizona senator’s heroism and his record as a political maverick unafraid to bridge the partisan divide.
“The Palin effect has been absolutely fabulous,” she added, referring to McCain’s choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin’s inclusion as the first female Republican on a national ticket has led to a large increase in volunteer participation, she said, though the McCain campaign declined to provide an estimate of volunteer participation in the Las Vegas area.
While exact schedules are unavailable, Lima expects that the GOP ticket will visit Las Vegas between now and Election Day. “Each volunteer can make a difference,” she reiterated before returning to her work.
David Zhao grew up in California after emigrating from China (though he is of Korean descent) and becoming a U.S. citizen. He has traveled all over the country for Obama, finding inspiration in the Illinois senator’s rise from humble origins and his message of change. Zhao believes that the nation’s first African-American presidential nominee will bring people together and create “opportunities for people nationwide to have a better life” in the wake of eight difficult years.
Zhao’s efforts focus on organizing phone outreach, canvassing (going door to door) and encouraging electoral precinct captains to concentrate on winning their areas. Like Lima, he finds that volunteering unites people from diverse backgrounds and leads to friendships and increased civic involvement. Volunteering has its lighter side, too, he says – like the time he knocked on a door and received an offer of singing lessons in return. (For the record, Zhao did not make Obama’s case in song.)
Zhao also cited the candidacy of Sarah Palin as precipitating a new wave of Obama volunteers. He said the newcomers augment the steady tide of enthusiastic supporters from across the political spectrum that has rolled in throughout the campaign in response to Obama’s call for change. Kincaid estimated that Obama has attracted more than 2,000 volunteer workers in the Las Vegas area.
Both Kincaid and Zhao foresee additional visits from the Democratic headliners before Election Day, but exact schedules are unknown at this point.
At the Obama office, a nice lady offered me a free Obama-Biden ball cap, which I declined despite a lifelong affection for free goods and a recent loss in my family of caps. Was it because I’m pro-Obama but didn’t want to appear biased? Or was it because I’m pro-McCain and am unwilling to wear an ad for the other side? I’m not telling. Campaign volunteering is good for both sides, so until I get to the ballot box, I’m keeping my opinions to myself.