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Posts from America (5) – The road ahead

the Black Jack map of rumored capitals (blue s...

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Vegas ate my money last night. I thought I’d worked out a ‘guaranteed to win’ strategy on the Black Jack tables. Guess what, I hadn’t. But to be honest I didn’t really mind. I still feel I won. The US made an historic choice yesterday and I played a small part in my part of Nevada in making it happen. I’ve been involved in several political campaigns in the UK and for me, there’s nothing quite like winning an election.

Ahead of arriving in Nevada I’d wondered what kind of reception I might get. Would people be puzzled about why someone would want to come from Europe to get involved in the US election? Would they think I was meddling in something that didn’t concern me? Would they politely, or not so politely, tell me to go home? I didn’t need to worry, everyone I met and talked to, Democrat, Republican or non-aligned welcomed my involvement. The people I worked with were bowled over that four ‘guys from London’ (I didn’t confuse them with the fact that I actually live in Belgium) had been inspired to come and lend a hand. Every time we opened our mouths someone would ask where we’d come from and why we’d chosen to campaign. At last night’s victory party in the Rio Hotel we were treated like celebrities who everyone wanted to be photographed with. I was swept away by the distinctly US enthusiasm for the new president and enjoyed every minute of it. For the record Obama Girl didn’t make it… I’m guessing she was getting her head around her new brief.

Obama Girl getting ready for her new role

Obama Girl getting ready for her new role

Today I left Vegas and returned to California. I was given a ride by volunteers who decided just over 48 hours ago that they needed to be where the action was and head to Vegas to lend a hand. The conversation in the car as we drove back through the dessert was mainly focused on the future and on what ‘change’ will mean in reality. I was interested to hear what they think the new president will bring. Expectations are clearly high and President-elect Obama has a lot of people to keep happy. ‘Yes We Can’ served him well during the campaign, but it was a slogan into which each person inserted their own dreams. Keeping together the coalition he has built will be a challenge and he may well disappoint along the way, but I wonder how different the US and possibly the world will be at the end of his first term in 2012.

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November 6, 2008 at 10:37 am Leave a comment

Posts from America (4) – Judgement day

imgp0340We’ve been on the streets of the voting precincts of Centennial Hills in NW Vegas since 6am. It’s an area, like all of Vegas, which is carved out of the dessert. To me it feels a bit like human beings will only be here temporarily. I write this because, coming from a temperate climate where we’re used to lots of water, lots of trees and a fair amount of wildlife I just can’t fathom how humans could live here long term – it’s so very barren. However it is very beautiful and the sun rise this morning lit the hills of the Las Vegas valley a beautiful burned red – a great contrast to the neon of the city.

Our first job was to hang ‘don’t forget to vote’ notices of the front doors of those we hope will vote Democrat. We did our best to avoid waking the excitable dogs that many people here have. In most cases we failed, so as we walked away from each street we left choruses of dogs and no doubt pretty annoyed people. Hopefully they’ll not be taking their anger out in the polling booth.

At 9am all the door hangers were all out and so we then went out to talk to people. This is an area which has suffered greatly from the sub-prime crisis and credit crunch. One in five houses here has been repossessed and it shows as you walk around the streets. People are feeling the impact of this recession and it is clear why they are so nervous.

Unlike in Europe, most people in the US register as being Democrat, Republican or Independent when they register to vote. This means that from the start of the campaign each party has a fair idea of where it’s support will come from. The challenges for each party are to ensure that it’s natural supporters get out to vote and to convince as many independents as possible to opt for its candidate. Each time we leave the campaign HQ to walk a precinct, we’re given a pack of sheets which contain information about the people we’ll be knocking on the doors of. Many on our sheets have the names of registered Republicans and independents who have said at some point over the last few weeks that they’ll be supporting Obama. This is obviously good news. However, I did meet a man this morning who, as a registered Democrat, decided to vote McCain because he didn’t like what Obama had said about redistribution.

The TV coverage has been interesting. Because Nevada is in the west of the country, it’s three hours behind the states on the East Coast. The pundits are keeping a keen eye on the big swing states in the east like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. The results of these are coming in thick and fast. There are pretty clear, early results and it looks like Nevada’s 5 electoral college votes won’t make much of a difference to the overall result. This has not dampened our spirits though and we are determined that our efforts will deliver the state for Obama. The networks are wary of calling the result too early. In 2004 a few called the election for Kerry, only to have to eat humble pie later in the night as it became clear that Bush had actually won. The competition to be the first to declare the election has been complicated by the huge number of websites which are now part of the race with the mainstream news networks.

Polls have just closed – 7pm Pacific Coast Time. We’re covered all the doors on our sheets and just returned to HQ. Everyone here is gathered around the tv watching what is happening in the east. It looks good and the mood is getting more and more frenzied. We’re hoping the party down on Las Vegas’s famous Strip in the Rio Hotel will be one to remember. Democrats, who have been campaigning all over the city, will be there to await the official result.

I can only imagine what is going through Barack Obama’s head now. What a moment. History in the making. Brilliant!

November 5, 2008 at 11:11 pm Leave a comment

Posts from America (3) – The only day that counts is tomorrow

Michelle Ob...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Michelle Obama flew in today and held a rally at the College of South Nevada. The accompanying photo shows her at the event. Her speech went down really well with the enthusiastic audience of around five hundred, who stood in the glorious sunshine to chant ‘Yes We Can!’ and show their appreciation of Michelle’s part in the campaign.

The speech was more of an emotional testimonial than a detailed outline of policy though she did hammer home central messages about education, the economy, jobs and the Iraq war. Michelle seemed choked at times when she told stories of people she’d met and the highs and lows experienced since the start of the campaign.

‘The campaign has been fun’ she said, ‘and the rallies have been amazing, but the only day that counts is tomorrow.’ Her pride in her husband was clear and she spoke touchingly about what the impact had been on the Obamas as a family. I was impressed with how at ease she was with the crowd. She appeared to speak unscripted though I’m sure she has given similar speeches many times. She dealt ably with the frequent enthusiastic shouts from the crowd and delighted people with an extended rope line walk when she came off stage. There were at least seven television cameras covering the event, I counted fourteen other journalists scribbling in the press pen and she apparently gave a number of one-to-one interviews when she came off stage.

This was a slick event which touched the spot with the assembled activists. I’ve been involved in the planning and delivery of a number of similar events in the UK with the Labour Party, though nothing on this scale would ever have been staged for the leader’s wife. In US politics it seems that a candidate’s family plays a crucial part in the campaign’s ultimate success.

Michelle Obama’s visit was one of three high profile ones taking place today. Sarah Palin visited Reno in the north of the state and Senator McCain will fly in this evening at the end of a grueling day of visits to swing states. Nevada is a small state with only five electoral college votes, but it is crucially important to both campaigns. For Obama it represents a fail safe. Pollsters believe he already has 264 solid blue state votes. Nevada’s 5 would bring him to 269, which is the number representing an electoral college tie. In the event of a tie, the House of Representatives must vote to decide the winner and because the Democrats control the House, this means that a win in Nevada would mean the Democrats taking the presidency. McCain is obviously keen to stop this happening and his campaign is therefore fighting hard to keep it for themselves. The last time that Nevada voted Democrat in a presidential election was for Bill Clinton in 1996.  As an added indication of how important this fight is, the Obama campaign has over three thousand lawyers in Nevada alone ready to get involved if there is any repeat of the 2000 election.

Our committee room in north Vegas is well prepared for tomorrow. We’ll be starting at 5.30am when we will hang ‘don’t forget to vote’ signs (very quietly!) on the front doors of people we hope will vote for Obama. Following that after a quick breakfast we’ll be knocking on doors to encourage people to get to the polls as early as possible as there is concern that later in the day the lines will be very long and people may decide it’s not worth the wait.

Polls close in Nevada at 7pm tomorrow. The optimistic voices here think that if the Republican turnout is down on those who voted in 2004 and the Democrat vote is dramatically up (many think this is likely) then we should know the outcome by 9pm west coast time. A large party on Vegas’s Strip is planned and I’ve got my fingers crossed that one of the hardest working and most committed Obama supporters will make an appearance. If she does, the question I have for Obama Girl is, does she hope for a place in the new administration?

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November 4, 2008 at 5:43 am 1 comment

Posts from America (2) – Viva Las Vegas

Sheila Burnham of N...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I’ve never been to Nevada before and I may be suffering from culture shock. There’s a well known phrase that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and I certainly don’t intend to give a lengthy explanation of the ins and outs of last night so I’ll skip straight to the campaigning…

We had to get up early to drive to the campaign headquarters. Our destination turned out to be a Tuscan-looking mansion about half an hour north of Las Vegas. Even though this state is basically desert, the house was surrounded by lush, green lawns and there was even a paddock with grazing fresian cows behind a rustic wooden fence that looked like it had been imported from New Hampshire. Very odd. We were greeted there by a friendly Democrat, Elena from California, one of the many out-of-state volunteers who have come to help out. She loaded our car up with Obama-Biden posters and coated our T-shirts with stickers before sending us on to the local campaign centre run by Sherri Grotheer an enthusiastic volunteer who runs a tight ship and provides all her helpers with more snacks than you can shake a stick at and has a husband who cooks a mean chilli.

We were briefed by another volunteer Dan, a local teacher who has been inspired to get involved because of what Obama has been saying about education reform. Dan gave us campaigning sheets with the names and addresses of who we should talk to, a map and leaflets and sent us on our way. The objective was to find out who had already voted so that we didn’t waste time bothering them with unnecessary calls and to encourage those who had not yet voted to get out and vote on Tuesday. Dan gave us the key messages to use on the door and he took us through the dividing lines with the McCain campaign. Once in the car we fought with the sat nav which only seemed capabable of giving us instructions in Mandarin.

We finally made it to where we needed to be and walked the streets for several hours knocking on doors and talking to voters. Their main concerns were the economy, the war in Iraq and taxes. There was plenty of concern about mortgage repayments and we passed many homes that had been reposessed. Most of those we spoke to had either already voted or were planning on voting for Senator Obama and as we listened to the radio in the car we heard the encouraging news that the latest polls were putting Obama on 49% and McCain on 43%.

McCain does have plenty of support here though and it’s certainly not yet in the bag for Obama. As a sign of this Michelle Obama will be in town tomorrow morning for a rally. Once we’d finished our work out on the doors, we came back to HQ and started to call registered Democrats to ensure that they knew about the rally and to see if they were able to come along. The local party is expecting a big turnout to see Michelle hope that the event will encourage more volunteers to get involved during the last last 48 hours. We’ll be at the rally in the morning so I’ll be sure to report back on how it goes.


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November 3, 2008 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

If the world could vote…

McCain as a student at the US Naval Academy in...

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The Economist is running an interesting online Vote 2008 poll entitled Global Electoral College – what if the world could vote. I’ve been tracking developments over the last few days and things don’t look good for John McCain. A few days ago the only countries definitely in favour of a McCain presidency were Georgia and Iraq. Namibia, Sudan and Algeria were on the cusp of endorsing the Senator from Arizona and Macedonia, Columbia, Venezuela and Myanmar were wavering. Today Iraq seems to be having second thoughts and Georgia is looks far better for Obama. The rest of the world seems to have fallen in love with Senator Obama and in some countries like Greece and The Netherlands, McCain doesn’t even make it to double figures. Bleak news for the Republicans.

This poll probably tells us more about the readership of The Economist than it does about the two candidates real chances, but it’s interesting that a magazine with a history of support for free trade and liberal economics has a readership which so overwhelmingly supports Obama – a candidate who’s position on trade is at odds with that of the paper. It must be said that the poll results are not the editorial line – for that we need to wait for the November 1st issue, but I wonder if the editor will be brave enough to take on his readership and argue the case for McCain. Interesting the Financial Times, another economically liberal newspaper endorsed Obama earlier this week in glowing terms. The editorial was followed by an excellent live FT webcast debate with Republican pundit Andrea Tantaros trying her best to shore up support for her party’s candidate.

I’m getting particularly excited about this election as I’m heading West to Nevada at the end of the week for the last few days of the campaign. I’ll be sure to post news from the States giving my on-the-ground analysis.


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October 29, 2008 at 11:05 am Leave a comment

Interactive Medvedev

I’ve just watched President Medvedev’s first podcast. A picture speaks a thousand words and here’s a man who wants to demonstrate his importance. He has three computer screens, two mice (one for each hand?!) and more phones than I could count. Disappointingly there was no sign of the red telephone

Medvedev follows other leaders in bypassing mainstream media to talk directly to the nation and show their more cuddly side. Britain’s politicians have been running neck and neck in who’s more interactive. Tony Blair became the first PM to produce a podcast which he made with comedian Eddy Izzard and David Cameron, the leader of the UK Conservatives, grabbed attention with his webcameron in 2006.

Britain’s royals, could perhaps be credited with starting this tradition thanks to their annual King or Queen’s speech which has become a much commented-on institution.

Good luck to President Medvedev, in future posts and in answering all those phones whilst keeping an eye on three screens and navigating his two mice…


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October 8, 2008 at 5:03 pm 1 comment

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