Busy day for Obama volunteers

by Amy Kingsley

A shiny black limo – its windows filled with pictures of Sen. Barack Obama – idled in the turn lane outside the candidate’s Winston-Salem campaign headquarters on the day of North Carolina’s May 6 primary.

The driver was one of several volunteers waiting to be pressed into service. Inside the office, people took phone calls while those outside waved posters. Everyone basked in the excitement of it all.

When the driver left for the neighborhoods, a white minivan glided into the limo’s void. In the driver’s seat sat Rudy Click, an Obama supporter from Kernersville. Chris Paige, a Howard University student, waited in the passenger seat.

The dispatcher gave them a name – Joan Doubthit – an address and a phone number.

Paige and Click had arrived at 8 a.m. with a list of nine voters in need of rides to the polls.

“There’s a funny story about that,” Paige said. “Two of the nine can’t go until later. Of them seven, all of them had already voted.”

Click chimed in.

“That’s what we’re finding,” he said. “The people we’re calling have already gone out to vote.”

So Doubthit would be their first passenger. Click called from his cell phone to confirm the pickup. Soon they arrived at her house, a brick cube set at the end of a neat lawn.

Paige slid open the rear door and helped Doubthit into her seat.

Her polling place was Ashley Elementary, a magnet school for students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ International Baccalaureate program.

“I went to Paisley,” Paige said, “and we used to have to share the bus with the Ashley kids. So I know where it is.”

A few turns later, the van stopped at the curb. Doubthit went inside to vote.

“I think we can win this area,” Paige said. “We’ve got Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State and a pretty good group of African Americans. You’d think with that demographic Obama would do pretty well.”

Paige and Click were two cogs in a sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort targeting the black and college communities. After they returned Doubthit to her home, the two turned into Piedmont Park Homes, a public-housing community.

Click approached a group, slowed and rolled down his window.

“Any of ya’ll need a ride to the polls today?” he asked.

No answer.

“I guess not,” Paige said.

Most of the residents, who were overwhelmingly black, said they had already voted.

“Do you think sometimes they’re lying when they say that?” Click asked.

“Maybe,” Paige said. “You know in 2004, ‘American Idol’ got more voters than the presidential election. I know you can vote more than once, but it’s hard enough to get through the first time. It took me like twenty minutes when Fantasia was on and I wanted to support North Carolina.

“I hope African-American voters turn out for this election,” he continued. “Sometimes you worry about whether African Americans become complacent. They think he’s doing well enough that they don’t have to worry about voting for him. I hope that doesn’t happen. “It was much easier to find parking outside Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters, a two-story house on the sloping edge of downtown Winston-Salem. Just a few cars languished on the curb outside a nondescript place identifiable only by its thicket of Clinton signage.

A woman sat on the porch outside. Inside, two volunteers parked at folding tables answered the phones. A staffer came down the staircase, offering a flyer for the evening’s party in Kernersville.

It was the mid-afternoon lull, and no supporters beat the air with poster board or hectored a pair of perambulating middle-aged white people – Clinton’s demographic – about voting. With five hours to go until polls closed, the place felt unmistakably forsaken.

The voters, it seemed, had moved on, and so would the campaign.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly,com.