Organizing for America energizes Greensboro volunteers

by Keith Barber

Rep. Brad Miller listens to a question from an audience member during a strategy session hosted by Organizing for America on the UNCG campus on April 8. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

Guilford voters could play a key role in determining the outcome of the race for the US Senate seat currently held by Richard Burr, Lindsay Siler, state director for Organizing for America, told a gathering of more than 50 volunteers at UNCG last week.

“We in this room have a huge responsibility,” said Siler. “We have got to get people out to vote. We not only will affect the local races but we will absolutely affect statewide races.”

Seiler pointed out that among the state’s 100 counties, Guilford has the third-highest potential for voter turnout. Seventy thousand first-time Guilford voters cast their ballots in the 2008 general election, which placed the county in Organizing for America’s crosshairs, said the organization’s national deputy director Jeremy Bird.

“When you look at the state and you look at those counties that had extremely high levels of first-time voters, people who after 2006 registered and came out for the first time, the numbers here are huge,” Bird said.

North Carolina achieved the status of battleground state during the 2008 presidential election due in large part to 842,000 firsttime voters who cast their ballots statewide, and the state “turned blue” as President Obama edged Sen. John McCain by a mere 14,000 votes.

“We need every single one of those first-time voters to become second-time voters,” Siler said.

In Guilford County, Obama handily defeated McCain by more than 44,000 votes, and the county played a key role in helping Obama win the state. For that reason, the county and the state has become a focal point of Organizing for America’s 2010 campaign.

“North Carolina is a very important state to the president in 2010,” Bird said. “It’s an important state for the future. It’s a special place. Our experience here in the [2008] primary and the general election was a good fight with some great people. We’ll see the president come here and all [resources] committed to growing our grassroots support throughout the state.”

Siler outlined what’s at stake in the 2010 elections during last week’s strategy session.

On a national level, since 1942, the president’s party has on average, lost 25 US House seats in off-year elections. Currently, the Democrats enjoy a 75-member advantage in the House and an 18-member advantage in the US Senate. Siler said Organizing for America believes that Richard Burr is vulnerable and with the help of its vast network of volunteers, the state could have two Democratic senators.

Siler then shifted her focus to the NC General Assembly races.

Currently, Democrats enjoy a 10-member advantage in the NC Senate and a 16-member advantage in the NC House.

Siler identified nine highly contested NC House races statewide and nine highly contested NC Senate races. Due to the state legislature’s control over redistricting and the fact the results of the 2010 Census will determine the boundaries of legislative districts, Democrats have a vested interest in making sure the party maintains control of the state legislature, she said.

To achieve its aim, Organizing for America has set a goal of registering 60,000 new Democratic voters statewide. Also, the organization has set a goal of raising the percentage of first-time voters who become second-time voters. In 2006, only 42 percent of first-time voters from the 2004 election turned out at the polls, Seiler said.

An 8 percent increase in Guilford County alone would generate more than 5,600 votes.

“That’s going to win an election,” Seiler said. “These elections are going to be so tight in November that this can make a difference.”

Rep. Brad Miller, who represents North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, spoke to volunteers at last week’s meeting. Miller said the political stakes could not be any higher this year. Americans voted for a change “from the bitter type of politics that Republicans have used to win elections” in 2006, but change hasn’t come easy.

“I think we’ve seen in the last year just how hard change really is, and how deep those divisions really are, and how willing the people who are opposed to change are to poke at the wounds in our society,” he said.

Given the problem of income inequality, financial reform is essential to America’s economy making a complete comeback, Miller said. He warned that a tough economy could play to the Republicans’ advantage in November, and it is the responsibility of civic-minded individuals to persuade their friends and neighbors that it was the policies of a Republican Congress and a Republican president that led to the economic meltdown of 2008.

Miller touched on the healthcare reform debate and the firestorm of anger and hatred that it unleashed. He spoke of a fellow congressman who received a threat on his daughter’s life during the build-up to the House’s passage of the controversial bill on March 21.

“That’s the kind of tactics we’re seeing and that’s the kind of rage that’s been turned loose in all this,” Miller said. “Those who are protecting their elite status, their power, privileges and profits are pretty much willing to play to any kind of division in society to protect what they’ve got, and we are going to go into the election with a very motivated opposition. We’ve got to be just as motivated.”

The mission of Organizing for America is to mobilize and energize the thousands of volunteers who worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign, and to capitalize on the president’s substantial political capital, Bird said.

“It’s an off-year election and traditionally there’s a lower turnout,” he said. “Our goal is to get that up as high as we can. We think increased turnout among people who voted for the president and first-time voters is going to be beneficial to supporting candidates who are pushing for things we care about —health care reform, Wall Street reform, and green jobs.”

Another key dynamic among North Carolina’s electorate is the high percentage of independent or unaffiliated voters.

Unaffiliated voters comprise 23 percent of the state’s electorate.

Organizing for America has outlined a multi-faceted strategy to win over the state’s 1.4 million unaffiliated voters. OFA is going to focus its efforts on turning first-time voters into second-time voters while the state Democratic Party is going to work on the Democratic base, and the individual campaigns are going to be focused on bringing independent voters into the fold.

Organizing for America, the Democratic National Committee and the state Democratic Party all share the same goals — advancing the presidents agenda, advancing local issues and getting Democrats elected — said Siler.

Miller called on the volunteers to forge ahead and continue their efforts to bring people to the polls and push the Democratic Party’s agenda forward.

“We cannot turn back,” Miller said. “We cannot give up on the kinds of changes we need to bring about. We need every effort to get [first-time voters] out. We need it for me. We need it for our Senate candidate. We need it for the state legislature; we need it up and down the ticket.”

“If we don’t do that in North Carolina and everywhere else, we are going to see ourselves go back to the kind of policies that we had for eight years under George W. Bush,” Miller continued. “We’re going to go back to the kind of policies we had for a dozen years under a Republican majority in Congress, and I am not willing to go back.”

John Carter, a Greensboro resident, attended the meeting to find out more about the organization and to see how he could help. Carter said his top two issues are lobbying reform and financial reform. A Wachovia stockholder, Carter said he watched helplessly as the value of his investments plummeted in 2008.

“I was convinced there was absolutely no control of finance in our nation; therefore, internationally we imbalanced the world economy and to the private stockholder, especially in that particular company, it went amok simply because of trying to capture this sub-prime market,” Carter said.

Carter said he plans on volunteering in Guilford County to help get Democratic candidates elected who will fight for vigorous financial reform.

“I would like to see stability in our economy,” Carter said. “I’d like to see the middle class, which is me, survive.”