a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The battle of Fredericksburg

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 26th, 2008

After canvassing for Obama in Woodbridge, Virginia the last two weekends, I was sent to Fredericksburg, Virginia yesterday. I arrived at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School after taking care of absentee voting in Rockville — I plan to take Election Day off and will in fact stay overnight in Leesburg, Virginia so I can help with election eve “get out the vote” (GOTV) work there.

Unlike every other weekend so far, canvassing weather yesterday was *not* gorgeous. We were caught in a driving rain at the high school, and the rain continued in patches all day long. Luckily, my ride to Fredericksburg, Jim M., was utterly brilliant and had brought two huge golf umbrellas — my umbrella is broken and drooping on one side, it would have been a pathetic sight.

Fredericksburg is quite a hike from Bethesda; it’s about an hour down I-95 when the traffic is good — and the traffic wasn’t all that good.  We left Bethesda about 12:30, and got to the Fredericksburg office about a quarter after two, I’d say.  We got the usual briefing, walking materials, political “literature” — always strikes me as a funny word for the glossy, buzzword-laden fliers — and absentee ballot applications, and headed out on our way, destination Autumn Leaf Circle in nearby Stafford.  The route took us past Spotsylvania Mall, and thus through more incredibly bad traffic.

And when we got there, we realized our walking list said “Autumn Drive” — not “Autumn Leaf Drive.”  A phone call back to the headquarters confirmed the bad news: we were about 30 miles from where we were supposed to be, the wrong map had been attached to our packet.

Sigh.  So we drive back through the ongoing traffic jam, on to I-95, north to the other side of Fredericksburg, and west on VA 3 into a half rural, half exurban countryside of horse farms, mobile homes, and McMansions; houses up long gravel driveways, mailboxes on the other side of the road, that kind of thing.  We drive and drive and drive —  finally finding ourselves on the walking maps, and head up the first street we’re supposed to visit.  We pull up at the house on our list, put our clipboards together, get our umbrellas, get out, walk up the driveway and sidewalk, and knock.  The rain is steady; it’s around 4 in the afternoon by now.

And a lady answers, and when we tell her what we’re there for, she says, “You know, I don’t want to talk about this, you all come here too much.”  And that was that.

It helped to have a canvassing partner with a good sense of humor.  The whole thing really was funny —  like we were the butts of a long, long shaggy dog joke.

Things went better after that — how could they not —  and we actually did contact or recontact Obama supporters, even way out there in rural/semirural Virginia.  The rain let up now and then, we got through maybe half of our “walking” (really “driving”)  list of 40 or so houses, and got back to Fredericksburg around dusk.

Please note that I’m not complaining about the map mistake.  That kind of thing happens; it just goes to show how every detail is important — and how every detail has usually been right when I get to the Obama campaign in Virginia.  A lot of care goes into assembling the walking packets, the people who put them together deserve a lot of credit.  Thanks!

2 Responses to “The battle of Fredericksburg”

  1. Nell Says:

    Thanks for doing this, Thomas. It does and will make a difference.

    I canvassed for five hours in one of Lexington’s suburban patches on Saturday. The only response similar to your first door was from a man who was smiling and polite, but said from behind the storm door, “This is the tenth or twelfth time you all have been here.”

    Back when I did fundraising canvassing for a living, I’d hear that all the time and it was rarely true — even accounting for the other organizations that were doing the same thing. But I resolved to check on it back at the office.

    There were enough people who filled out absentee applications (3) and who were voting for the first time in Lexington and needed to know where to vote (5) to provide assurance that it was worth doing. That was especially comforting during the first several dripping-wet hours of the canvass. One good thing about rain: more people are home!

    Back at the office, the Obama staffer impressed me again by being able to answer just how many times the campaign had visited the genial-but-refusing gentleman: I was the fifth. That is a lot, and he checked the box for ‘skip on next pass’. Might as well keep him genial, whichever way he’s going to vote.

    I’m truly impressed at your willingness to brave the horrible, horrible congestion of NoVa and bleak neighbhorhoods with no amenities. My walk was cushy in many ways, despite wearing me to a nub physically: I knew several people I was visiting; there was a grocery-with-cafe at one corner of the turf where I revived myself with a coke and sandwich; and the turf was three minutes from the office (especially helpful when I had to go back for more absentee applications).

    I’m now a lot more confident that Obama will carry Virginia, and interested to see what Republican turnout will be in the county. The Obama campaign has a plan for monitoring that in sample precincts — depressed opposition turnout will be one key to keeping the margin down in the red Valley.

    So, after some phoning Thursday and election-day sample-ballot greeting, I’ll feel I’ve earned the right to screech and moan about Robert Rubin… ;>

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    5 hours!! Holy Toledo! I’ve gone 3 max. You’d long since earned your right to screech, but that was a lot of work. (You’d think there were no qualified progressive Democrats for Treasury or Defense — I’m hearing Gates (“transitional”) for SecDef from a progressive thinktanker.)

    “Willingness to brave” — mainly from ignorance! Also, Fredericksburg was far and away the worst traffic so far; the other places are sprawly, but F-burg has created a bottleneck with a mall right at a major interchange — and few alternatives to get around it. I guess living in Montgomery County, I’ve got no right to complain about sprawl — though we do have more transit than I’ve seen in NoVa. I envy your grocery/cafe right in the middle of the turf you did, that was just not gonna happen in most of the places I’ve been sent.

    The Obama people do seem to be very good at keeping track of both voters and volunteers to find ’em, phone ’em, and data entry ’em.

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