Behind the Obama win: An insider view

By Latha M. Srinivasan, IANS,

It was the sheer hard work of his campaign volunteers and extensive ground game that won Barack Obama his second term as US president.

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It was the Obama campaign’s decision to put huge amounts of resources into the ground game that led to his triumph over Mitt Romney. We learnt this truth on Election Day — and when our Ohio state proved the decisive factor in what was a hard fought election.

It was in 2008 that I chose to support Obama in the Ohio Primary. I have supported him ever since.

On Tuesday night, a little after 11 p.m., my trust and confidence in Obama was affirmed for another four years by American citizens.

I live in Ohio, a “swing state” on the presidential electoral map. It is the state that usually decides the outcome of presidential elections.

In Ohio, I live in Cleveland, which is in Cuyahoga County. Cuyahoga is the most liberal-leaning and thus decisive county in Ohio.

It was the Cuyahoga votes that put Obama over the magic number of 270. It was one of the most exhilarating moments I have ever experienced.

It was after the presidential outcomes of 2000 and 2004 that I realized how important it was to become involved in grassroots volunteering. I did a bit of it in 2006 when a friend ran for a state office. My first real experience came in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

I was an “election observer” – a volunteer acting on behalf of the Democratic Party’s Voter Protection programme. Most observers are attorneys, and I am one, but that is not a requirement.

We are assigned to one or more polling locations to ensure all procedures are correctly followed. Democratic observers seek to make sure that every voter who can vote does vote. Generally, the more the voting, the better for Democrats.

I knew it was essential to get people to vote so that Obama would be re-elected. A Romney presidency would cater to the socially conservative (and backward, in my opinion) Tea Party movement and take us back to the failed policies of George W. Bush. Losing was not an option.

I am a middle-class, married, professional working woman with two young children. The future needed to be preserved. My parents, who came to the US from India in the late 1960s and early 70s and who are American citizens, value their right to vote and taught me to do so as well.

I signed up to make phone calls to voters in my neighborhood, “Ward 19”. Politically, it is a crucial ward in Cuyahoga. Ward 19 was Ground Zero. That is how I look at it.

From August to late October, I volunteered every Monday and Wednesday night, after work, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., calling registered voters.

I had all kinds of experiences. I came across voters who called Obama a “Communist” and hung up on me, voters who backed Romney but engaged me in meaningful conversations, the undecided (whom I tried to convince to vote for Obama) and voters who were as excited about Obama as I was.

I did this week after week. Although it was time away from my family and the many other commitments I have, I found great fulfilment in it. I felt like I had a direct hand in re-electing the president. There were nights when my son, aged 7, and daughter, aged 3, would forlornly say: “You are leaving again tonight Mommy? To help President Obama?” How do you explain to such young children that your absence is for a bigger cause?

Then came the first debate. It was as if a big bucket of cold water was thrown on the campaign. I was so upset. Obama supporters were stunned by his under-performance. It did not draw the undecided voters closer to Obama. Luckily, Obama came back swinging for the second and third debates.

At the end of October, the volunteers started calling and canvassing identified Obama supporters. We told them that Ohio had early voting — which favours Democrats. We encouraged them to vote early. I joined with other Obama canvassers and walked around my neighbourhood.

If a voter was not home, we left a flyer at their door asking them to vote for Obama. It was a tiring but fulfilling effort.

Thousands of volunteers from the swing states helped. In Cuyahoga County, we had many out of state volunteers who recognized the importance of Ohio. I even met an Obama supporter from Britain!

On Election Day, I woke up at 4 a.m. to get to my post on time. Observers are permitted in the polling area 30 minutes before start of ballot. I reached with doughnuts and a cup of coffee. At 6.07, I noticed that voters were lining up to vote. A great sign for Democrats. When polling opened at 6.30 a.m., the queue was long.

It was a hectic day, and a long one. I did not leave my polling location until well after 8 p.m.

I was exhausted but decided to go to watch the election results at a bowling alley in Lakewood, a relatively Left-leaning town in the heart of Cuyahoga.

There was a giant screen. There was also a TV. The place was filled to the brim with Obama volunteers and supporters. The excitement was amazing. No one there had slept in weeks. The adrenaline was rushing.

Slowly, the results came in. Each time a swing state was called for Obama, the crowd went nuts, cheering, clapping, screaming and howling. Wisconsin – Obama! Iowa – Obama! Nevada – Obama! (In the meantime, Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio, was announced to have kept his seat, and the crowd went wild). Finally, Obama’s electoral votes got to 258.

A realization swept through the crowd. If Ohio goes to Obama, he would meet the threshold 270 electoral votes and win re-election. Hearts started beating faster, hands were over mouths in anticipation. People were both anxious and excited.

I knew I would be heartbroken if Obama lost Ohio. Would Ohio deliver Obama the election?

Then, out of the blue, and much earlier than anyone expected, the network we were watching had Obama at 272 electoral votes. It was Ohio! Cuyahoga County! That’s us, right here!

I was unable to move. Was this really true? Then pandemonium ensued. I stood up and cheered with other Obama supporters! I was not able to speak – only scream – while jumping up and down. People were hugging each other, crying. We did it! I hugged people I did not even know. Ohio had done it!

It was done. Barack Obama had earned a second term.

(10.11.2012 – Latha M. Srinivasan, a lawyer of Indian origin based in Cleveland, Ohio, was part of the Obama campaign. She focusses on labour, employment and business litigation and can be contacted at [email protected])