More than 1,500 supporters of President Barack Obama packed a synagogue in Northwest Washington recently to rally on behalf of their candidate and to plan strategy to win over undecided or infrequent voters in Virginia.
The rally took place Oct. 17 at the Jewish Historical Synagogue located at 600 I St., NW, part of an effort by D.C. Democrats called GOTV, or Go to Virginia, which organized to lobby Virginia voters. The volunteers believe that their door-to-door and phone campaign in the Old Dominion State will generate sizable support as Election Day draws near.
“We need 1,000 volunteers to knock on 90 doors each this weekend,” said Sara El-Amine, Virginia’s GOTV director. In 2008, “Obama won Virginia with an average of 94 additional votes in each precinct than his opponent and we don’t want to lose that edge [in] this election. We registered 140,000 new voters who we need to keep enthused and engaged.”
As the election draws near, volunteers for Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney are stepping up their efforts, converging on battleground states in droves to try to bolster support for their respective candidates. Both candidates are spending exhaustive hours lobbying voters in the important battleground states like Virginia, where both Obama and Romney were stumping this week.
The D.C. GOTV volunteers said they have contacted 2.6 million people in Virginia by phone and that 3.5 million volunteer recruitment requests have been made. They have knocked on more than 1 million doors and held 600,000 conversations about their candidate.
“This is a peoples’ campaign,” Michael Strautmanis, deputy assistant to the president and counselor for strategic engagement to White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, told the crowd. “We need to win Virginia. D.C., please help us.”
Volunteers said their efforts were not just about getting out the individual voters.
“We know that President Obama needs 270 electoral votes to win,” he said. “We also know that his opponent cannot win without Virginia. It’s not just the popular vote, we need those electoral votes. D.C., let’s win this election. Are you fired up?”
The synagogue crowd responded with a resounding, “Ready to go!”
Volunteers said the movement makes them feel part of a traditional effort like the ones held in the South decades ago to encourage people to register to vote in the face of intimidation. Adam Barr, 30, of Northwest, said he has traveled to South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin campaigning for Obama’s reelection.
“This has been a great experience,” he said. “I’ve met more people from across the country than I ever dreamed possible. What I found out is that people just want their voices heard.”
Jon Carson, who served as national field director for Organizing for America (OFA) in 2008, said the race between Obama and Romney is too close for volunteers to relax.
“In Virginia, there is something happening out there where people need to talk to someone,” he said. “Some people don’t know the date of the election, where to go or what to bring as proof of identification. That’s scary.”
Maizi Holland, an events coordinator for OFA-DC, said while phone canvassing voters in the southern most part of Virginia, she heard complaints about polls being moved as far as 20 miles away. Voters complained that they would have trouble going that far.
Melvin Law, president of the Richmond Branch of the NAACP, said he had not heard those complaints, but that organizers there are ready to assist with transportation. “We have organized churches and other community groups to pick up voters and take them to the polls in our area,” he said.
Diana Miller, 61, said the movement needs young people to take the reins. She said she has supported candidates since Jesse Jackson’s ran for president in 1984.
“I’m going to call some of the young people of my community to go to Virginia and help this time,” she said. “These feet are tired now. Talents like mine should be used more effectively speaking with voters by phone.”