I have never worked as hard as I did during the 6 weeks that I spent on this campaign – it was more physically and emotionally challenging than anything I have experienced before. From the anxiety of knocking on every door, to walking for miles in the heat, to the long hours in the office and ensuring that our volunteers were well looked-after. In the last few days we were lucky to get any sleep at all!
On the stakes
This election was a crossroads for the USA. From womens’ rights to education, the economy to foreign policy, the two options on the table were so fundamentally different.
For this reason, it wasn’t just about ‘winning’ per se, it was about the potential for suffering if we didn’t pull it off. The desperate need to get Obama re-elected was tangible from the moment I arrived, and the dedication of colleagues around me was nothing short of inspirational.
A couple of things that campaign volunteers told me will always stick in my mind. One retired woman looked me straight in the eye and said ‘We must never go back to the days when women are throwing themselves down the stairs because they can’t access family planning’. An African American lady also told me that she would ‘die’ rather than see discrimination against her community reignite. ‘We’ve come too far now, we will stand up and fight to the death for these rights’.
The eyes of the world were on us and we could feel that pressure.
In 2008 he was the ‘change’ candidate – but things were very different in 2012. Obama was the incumbent President and had served during historically harsh economic times. Contrary to what some argued, this election was not a foregone conclusion. After the very negative popular reaction to the first Presidential debate, the race became tight between Obama and Romney. Many diehard supporters never wavered in their confidence in Obama’s victory, but I certainly felt the pressure notch-up at that point!
Nevada is a unique place. The State has been hit extremely harshly by the economic crisis – in particular the rate of home foreclosures is very high. The population of Las Vegas is transient; short-term rental apartments are easy to find and much of the population works several jobs with antisocial hours.
All of the above factors made Las Vegas a particularly challenging place in which to organise. Despite this, the Obama campaign had a fabulous team of volunteers – some of whom dedicated many months of their lives to ensuring that Nevada turned blue for another four years.
On the ‘ground game’
The Obama field effort in this election has received much attention in the press – and rightly so. It was the efforts that the Democrats exerted on ground level that so markedly distinguished our side from the Romney camp.
In battleground states, the Obama campaign changed the face of the electorate. In Nevada, they registered over 90,000 new voters in the run up to the election. Many of these new registrants were Democrats. It was in breaking down the bureauracy to enfranchisement for so many thousands of people that the real victory lay. It was so exciting to talk to first-time voters about the value of voting and where and when they should go and cast their ballot.
The Field Teams with which I worked were the most energetic and hardworking teams I could have imagined. No matter how tired or dispirited they were after a long day knocking on doors, their drive was never diminished. The Nevadan volunteers (and those that travelled in from Arizona and California) were similarly dedicated and this victory would not have been achieved without them.
On the future
American politics is a complex beast – and this titanic victory has not changed that. But for the progressive half of America this victory has provided hope and belief once again. Belief, in particular, that sheer hard work is still more valuable than money. Obama and his administration are still facing a recalcitrant Republican party and there are many many challenges ahead. But for now, at least, we can all bask in the warm glow of victory.