Sometimes you find the story, and sometimes the story finds you. Troy, Ohio has been hunting me a long time.
It started in college, when a buddy
would not shut up about informed us about Troy (hey, Phil). We'd stayed in nearby Tipp City in deep red Miami County, and only popped up to Troy for a hearty Saturday morning breakfast. We'd had different plans for the day, but one minute our blonde waitress wisecracked her way through coffee, hash browns, and dumb-blonde jokes, the next minute Troy had a story for us.
The first thing that stands out about the Troy, Ohio Obama field office is its placement. It's right in the heart of town. It catches everyone's attention -- you can't miss it.
The next thing that caught our attention was that, since the office had first opened, 800 different people from Miami County had come through the office's doors to volunteer. There were only 51,760 voters in the entire county in 2004, and a mere 17,606 were Kerry voters.
4.5% of the entire Miami County Kerry vote has already walked in the doors to volunteer.
This is a brand new development. Ed White, a first-time volunteer who spoke to us in the Troy office, said he'd lived here 24 years and had long "felt the stultifying effect of speaking up in a community so Republican." Miami County went for Bush by 32 points in 2004. After that election, there were bitter feelings in an tight-knit area woven together by approximately 33 community organizations and dinner clubs. National issues had split ordinarily more connected people apart, and without Democratic organization, folks like Ed felt isolated.
This year, Ed is volunteering along with everyone else.
How did he get started? I asked. A friend named Margaret Begg had talked to him a handful of times, and soon enough Ed was in the office. "Everybody assumes everybody else is a Republican here," he said. The office location opened things up.
For her part, Begg has helped ignite a Democratic grassroots awakening in Miami County. Jake Schlachter, a Troy native who returned to Ohio to help out in this year's election and who was there for that first meeting, told us he's been amazed to observe his hometown's transformation. Starting from the spring with a group of five around Begg's kitchen table, the grassroots effort grew to 16, then 41, then 85, then over 200. The most inspiring thing Schlachter says he's seen this year is now that Begg and her husband have led this grassroots shift, they're indefinitely suspending plans they'd had to move away. The Beggs want to stay and build the infrastructure.
Peer-to-peer interaction. No stocking capped kids, here, my friends.
As we rolled out of our host's home in Tipp City, just down the road, serendipity found us again. We saw a woman walking with a clipboard in our direction. "Hi, I'm with the Obama campaign," she began. Her name was Sue Hofer, a middle-aged evangelical Christian on her 4th weekend doorknocking tour for Obama. She was a little surprised when we immediately started interviewing her.
Sue told us that she found her way from passive to active by first going to Obama's website. She found her local office and soon attended a nearby house party for which she'd signed up online.
The local organizer, Ian, explained at that meeting that Barack Obama intended to run a grassroots campaign and gave the group several concrete suggestions about what they could do. Soon, Sue hosted her own house party and a team was formed. They phone bank on Wednesday nights and write personalized postcards as follow-ups to voters they'd spoken with at the doors on weekends. For Obama supporters, she and her group thank the supporters for their support and suggest ways for them to plug in if they want to get involved, including Ian's number. For undecideds, they thank the recipients for having taken the time to talk, and offer them more information.
Sue stressed to us that while the campaign gives them reference material along with literature, the language they use to talk to their neighbors is their own. "We're just who we are," Sue says. Unscripted works best. "I live in Tipp City, and I'm a volunteer," she emphasizes to folks at their doors.
(Doesn't much sound like Dean-kids-in-Iowa-2004, does it, Mike?)
A bit down the road in Enon, Ohio, another deep red Ohio area, we found Jessica Ashdown leading a team of canvassers around the neighborhood. A bright, cheerful volunteer with the Wright State Democrats, Jessica has essentially been deputized out of the Beavercreek Obama field office to cover her hometown. Knockers walked in teams in very Republican neighborhoods on the warm early fall afternoon, following the mantra that you can't win if you don't show up.
We tried to go to the McCain office just down the street in Troy at noon on Saturday. At the exact moment we arrived, we found two nice elderly women peering inside the locked, closed office. They'd come to volunteer. Unfortunately, McCain's Troy office isn't open on weekends, according to a sign in the window.
24 days til the election.