Will Dawson, who works in the Campaign Unit at Labour Party Head Office, described his experience in campaigning for Obama to the members of the North Oxfordshire Villages Branch in Adderbury on 6 February. Will volunteered to help in both the presidential elections for Barak Obama: in Colorado in 2008 and in Virginia in 2012. He contrasted his first campaign, in a town where over 80% of voters were Democrat, with the key state of Virginia which had a more mixed and conservative population, with many people working for the armed forces.
Members were impressed by the scale of the campaign he led as a Regional Organiser – for only 460,000 voters (less than Oxfordshire) the Democrats had 21 staff, plus 50 student interns and 4,000 volunteers. The latter were recruited by ‘aggressive canvassing’ or the ‘hard ask’ which said, “We will lose if you do not help!” That’s a lot of people on the ground – it was a door to door campaign, with helpers bussed in from other states on Election Day.
Will emphasised the importance of ‘empowerment’, the training and support given to keep everyone ‘on message’, and ‘sharing the story’ of why each person wanted to help Obama to win. He said that the President’s success in gaining a second term was due to the structure, discipline and focus of the campaign: everyone working locally must follow the central campaign strategy directed by campaign HQ, which sets stringent targets. He added that the Labour Party is as advanced as the Democratic Party with the use of computers, but that telephoning and social media played an important role, especially in recruiting helpers and raising funds.
Members were surprised to find that 2 lawyers were present at polling stations in many strong Democrat areas to prevent voter intimidation in the strict checks to prove the identity of individual voters. Some electors had had to wait to vote for up to 4 hours after the polls closed at 7pm (warmed, fed and watered by election workers to persuade them to stay in the line on a cold November night).
Will more recently had enjoyed a few days in Washington D.C. (which he described as ‘Disneyland for political geeks’) where he attended the Inauguration of the President and afterwards danced at the Presidential and Staff Balls at the White House. This was surely a glamorous but just reward for six weeks of very hard work organising this small, but vital, part of the national campaign – Virginia voted for Obama by a narrow margin.