We arrived in the Reno area on Friday night. I drove in, Mr. MacGregor flew in, and I picked him up at the airport. My yellow Lab, Sanford, “the yellow dog Democrat” was with me. We got a room at a skanky motel room (cheap, dog tolerant, and Internet access–good enough) near Lake Tahoe, because we weren’t sure which part of Nevada we would go to.
We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so we shot the shit for a while and then got to bed quite late. We woke up a bit late, and after some consideration, decided we would go not to Reno itself, but one of its exurbs, in a different county.
We headed to the Obama office in Minden, Nevada, in Douglas County.
In 2004, Douglas county went for Bush 15,192 to 8,275, or 64% to 35%. As of October 17, 2008, the party registrations were 8,308 Democrats and 14,533 Republicans. Based on the 2004 vote, it is about 14% more
Republican than the rest of the state.
We found the office in one of the town’s very new looking office buildings, with a sign on the street pointing the way in. We walked in and were greeted. We said we hadn’t been contacted (despite signing up several times to go to Nevada) and that we’d do whatever. A guy from LA trained us on what to do when canvassing. I pretty much instantaneously forgot, but Mr. MacGregor remembered and refreshed my recollection a few times. Honestly, I was a little anxious about the whole thing. I was secretly hoping they had some kind of office job for me. They said the people out canvassing would be back in a few with the clipboards to hand off to us.
We took Sanford for a walk around Minden. We saw a few more McCain signs than Obama signs, but we saw quite a few Obama signs. I grew up in a place a lot like Minden, but in California. A small, rural high desert town with a spurts of growth and strata of newcomers. The houses were neat and clean, some small, some large. I have nothing to base this on, but something tells me there weren’t very many Kerry signs out in 2004.
We got back to the office in the middle of Rene Russo, the actress from Major League and Lethal Weapon, giving a pep talk to the crowd. I was disturbed to find out later that she was in her early 50s, because she was quite MILFy. The crowd abated, stole all of the pieces of flair and swag.
We got our clipboard, checked it out, and got ready to go. What I noticed was how competent the people were in this tiny little outpost in a heavily Republican county. There was coffee; there were snacks; there were computers with people doing work; there were chairs. Clearly, it was not running on a shoestring.
We were sent down the road to follow up on an area of a town just to the south of Minden called Gardenerville to a newish looking housing tract. The first shift (these people were damn organized) went to approximately 40 houses and gathered data, left literature, and tried some persuasion. We were there to follow up on the 30 or so folks that weren’t home.
It was cold. There were a few specs of rain here and there, and a chilly wind. Who cares? This particular precinct was for Bush 59%-39%, so 6% less pro-Bush and 4% more pro-Kerry than the county as a whole. You wouldn’t know that by walking around. The signage was roughly even. This was not a yuppie neighborhood. The cars were mostly trucks. There were obvioulsy quite a few foreclosures.
We found more people our our list had moved than we actually spoke to. Most of the people that hadn’t been home earlier still weren’t home. One of the weirder things was going to places to speak to 18 or 19 year old kids of people who weren’t also registered as Democrats.
Many of the McCain signs had accompanying negative slogans, like this one to the left. It says “Keep off Lawn Dog Owners Beware.” I can’t tell you how many McCain/Get Off My Lawn jokes I’d heard. It was hilarious.
This seemed to be a place that people weren’t scared to put their signs up, even right next to each other. There were kids playing in the neighborhood (despite the weather).
The long and the short of it is that we found a bunch of people had moved or weren’t there anymore (we saw some moving boxes in one house). I talked to one woman who was on the list and confirmed that she was going to the polls on the 4th, and didn’t need a ride to the polls or anything else. I talked to an old couple who weren’t who the list said was supposed to be there, but who both confirmed to me that they had already voted for Obama. Neat.
It was amazing how easily I got over my anxiety about doing this. Part of it was probably that I believed this needed to be done. Part of it was we were, for the most part, only going to rope Obama supporters. We weren’t really out there to try and change minds. If we found someone who was undecided, we were supposed to ask them what their issues were. That never came up for us.
Mostly that never came up because were were just collecting data as a small cog in a very, very efficient machine. We moved the ball a little bit. Some of the people in the neighborhood will just get a sense that Obama cared enough to send people there, for whatever that’s worth. So, for those reasons, even though we didn’t have some super-duper miracle conversion story, this was highly rewarding. Very rewarding.
We went back to the office, dropped off the clipboard and headed back up to the skanky motel. Sunday, well, Sunday was another story for another time. We resolved to do some phone calls off the website, because the weather was shitty. We had originally resolved to go to Carson City the next day, but we looked at some more polls, and decided to see if we could focus on other states from the motel room.
On our way to dinner on Sunday, we drove through a bunch of teenagers doing sign waving (in Washoe County, Nevada). We honked. Also, when you watch the Reno TV station, you see just how overpowering Obama’s on air presence is too. It’s not just the ground game, which, so far as I could tell was litereally “the only game in town.”
I think Nevada’s going blue, and that’s great. But what I saw was deeper than that. I saw a rejection–or at least a questioning–of the way things are. People are ready for a new story.