Postcard from the US campaign trailBy Frank Browne
November 04, 2008
Some might consider former Wokingham Borough Council leader and Tory member Frank Browne’s decision, after stepping down in May, to campaign for American Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as distinctly ‘turn coat’.
But, as the US goes to the polls, he tells us why he’s pinning his hopes for all our futures on someone he believes can really make a difference.
Coming from the country that has made queuing an art form, I’m astounded.
It’s early morning, the polling stations open in two hours and there are queues of people outside every polling station I pass on my way into the Obama campaign headquarters.
Not short queues – long queues – scores if not hundreds of people waiting patiently to cast their vote in what many regard as the most important election for some 30 years.
I’m based in the Obama campaign HQ in North Carolina; a state that has not voted Democrat since 1976 and scene of one of the tightest presidential, senatorial and governor elections in the country.
I’ve worked in every UK general election since 1992, some 13 local government campaigns and too many by-elections to mention and I never seen such a sustained level of intense electioneering.
Eighteen-hour days are standard fare for the core campaign team and most of them have been doing this for weeks.
Our day normally starts at 9.30am with a conference call of all the regional field offices before the volunteers start arriving.
At this stage of the campaign we are completely focused on getting out our pledged supporters.
We’ve lost count of the number of volunteers coming in but they are pouring in from neighbouring states, from New York, California and of course the UK.
Teams are sent out to knock on doors, some are kept in the office to telephone, some to enter data, some to print and others to prepare for the arrival of celebrities such as Jay-Z who are coming in to rally support for Senator Obama.
Vast amounts of money are spent on literature, innovative ways of getting the candidate’s message across, the radio and television programmes are dominated with election coverage.
The variety of different neighbourhoods is also staggering.
This morning I was sent to a less salubrious area where I gave myself sore hands by knocking on so many steel doors that seemed to be a feature of this particular state.
In the afternoon I went to an area that has been almost completely rebuilt with some lovely houses that would fit in well in the leafy lanes of Berkshire.
Wherever I go though people are incredibly friendly, some struggle with the accent but it’s a good ice breaker and seems to go down well on the telephone calling.
When it starts getting dark we stop knocking on doors and return to our base to continue telephone calls and start entering the data.
Around 10pm we have another conference call. The first is across the State and we learn how other regions have done. It’s quite competitive and retains a keen level of focus.
Occasionally we’ll have a guest contributor, this evening it was with the GOTV (Getting Out The Vote) Director for the national campaign team who gave his views on how the campaign was shaping up.
We then have a second conference call with our regional offices where we review our own progress and start prepping for the day ahead.
We learn that on Monday Senator Obama is flying into North Carolina to give his last rally before election day; emotions run quite high with the news as many recognise this will be an incredible moment in what is likely to be an historic election.
So, you might ask, what is a committed Conservative like myself doing helping a left of centre presidential candidate that would normally look more to the Labour Party as a political soul mate?
In a nutshell I believe we need a strong America to lead on tackling some of the key challenges that require an international approach.
I feel President Bush has been an unmitigated disaster and that John McCain would just be ‘Bush II’.
Whether we like it or not the occupant of the White House impacts all our lives and personally I am genuinely concerned about the lack of credibility the USA now carries on the international stage and the vacuum this creates which the UN, Europe or other countries struggle to fill.
Of all the candidates I believe only Senator Obama can give America the fresh start it needs to fill its vital international role.
Meanwhile the queues are getting shorter and reaching their natural conclusion. Waiting times of five and six hours have been reported in parts of the State with a total of more than two million people taking the opportunity to vote early despite the waiting.
Turnout is expected to be above 60 per cent – a level not achieved since 1968. Once every generation (1932, 1968 and 1980) Americans seem to elect a President that charts a new course for the country.
In less than 36 hours we will learn if they will do it again.