Saturday, November 1, 2008

A View from the Swingest of All Swing States: Florida

I am staying about 35 miles south of Tampa in Manatee County. It is solid red country and the issue of race is front and center in this election here. Up in Jersey it does not seem to enter into the lexicon, the Bradley effect, etc. But, here you can easily find yourself in a conversation about race. My mother has had several recently. One neighbor asked her "why does Obama always refer to himself as an African-American? What about his white mother?" First off I didn't know he referred to himself like that, but such is the conversation. Another conversation started out - "I don't know if he will get elected, but I know he will get shot." Who wants a President that will get shot as the smirk was front and center in his face. One is reminded that the "new south" can get old and deep very quickly. Another Minister down in red country had to remind his flock that "if you agree with McCain then vote for him, but if you are not voting for Obama because he is black, that is immoral." I didn't know that was in dispute, but down here one must be reminded of that. Different mindset altogether here.

Yesterday, I didn't know where I was going as I have found the voter protection program here a bit disorganized as to volunteers anyway. So, I got a number of someone who is in the know. I called her and she said meet me at my house early and we will go from there. I got up early and met her at her house in the most beautiful neighborhood in Tampa. It could have been D.C. She was waiting and she happened to be the Vice Chair of the Democratic Party in Hillsborough County and the fastest talking southerner I ever met. She moved fast and furious. We began the day delivering campaign materials to early voting sites around the county and having conversations about why we were progressive, why we supported Barack and not Hillary, why we left the Catholic church and how sometimes family members disappoint us the most. It was enlivening, exciting and awe-inspiring. We kept driving and by 10:00 am we were at the spot I would spend until 7:00 PM when early voting ends.

The lines were tremendous, out the door all day, at least 200 people in line and many more Republicans were out in force. Along with giving advice about voting problems we snuck in some suggestions about voting the democratic ticket especially no on Amendment 2 that protects marriage between a man and a woman in Florida though it is illegal three different ways here. Four times a charm I guess.

The election officials argued with us, but we were clearly behind the 100 foot line and we are allowed to do what we want there. I must have had that conversation with seven different election officials. At Temple Terrace (the busiest of all the sites) yesterday the McCain campaign made a sign that said the folks in blue hats work for the Obama campaign which I didn't think was a secret since Republicans are the ones that steal all the votes. By the time 7 PM rolled around I was exhausted and electioneering(ed) out. I looked around and realized my ride was long gone and I had no way of getting back to my car. I asked two Obama volunteers to give me a ride as they drove to a "Baracktoberfest" party. Thank goodness they were there. Such is the life on the campaign. You meet great people and suddenly they are gone and then others pop right in.

This morning on my way in to the campaign the person that carted me around all day and left me stranded was on the radio talking as fast as she did all day and taking it to the streets. She sounded like she was checking her blackberry as she spoke. Amazing. I called her and got voicemail and asked her where she was and how come you stranded me and what about your cousin who I am supposed to give legal advice to? And you have my sweatshirt in your car!!

I never heard from her again. I did, however hear her talk about a Chris Rock rally for Obama on the east side of Tampa in which the comedian would give a speech and then "march" over with thousands of folks to early vote. Today the lines were tripled and there were enough lawyers around to give everyone advice. Saturdays are a good day to vote. And Chris Rock should be commended. I could not get near his speech, but got near some loudspeakers as he spoke about what Barack means to "us." If you can't vote he said, "find a lawyer." They will show you how. But, at every site I worked this week it has gone relatively smooth and everyone who has wanted to vote has done so. The prediction right now, depending on how well today goes - is between 1/3 and 1/2 of voters in Hillsborough County will have voted before Tuesday. That is unbelievable. Word is Miami_Dade is much heavier. Yikes. Three days until the election.

As for me I am going to sleep. I never did hear from the Vice Chair again, but it sure was good to meet her.

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