Everyday activists

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

During this election, an individual can donate $2,300 to a campaign, a limit set by the Federal Election Commission. Some generous citizens in Ohio have shelled out top dollar to numerous candidates.

You'd get a nice thank-you note for that.

But in 2008, candidates aren't just asking supporters to pony up their savings. In the era of the everyday activist, state and federal candidates are competing as much for dollars as for doers - the street-team members and grassroots advocates that, increasingly, turn the wheels of multifaceted machines.

Nowhere will this battle become fiercer than in Ohio.

In the Buckeye State, John McCain and Barack Obama remain locked in a dead heat. As of last week, the Republican nominee led his Democratic challenger by less than two percent, according to an average of national polls tallied by RealClearPolitics.com.

Meanwhile, the Libertarian, Green and Socialist parties will be fighting for increased exposure now that a federal district court judge ruled earlier this summer that the names of their candidates will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

That means canvassers, sign-painters, bloggers, networkers and pavement-pounders will continue to be in high demand. Hours are flexible, opportunities and commitment varied, experience not required.

In short: Your time is money.

"[Grassroots activism] is going to be a critical part of our effort to win Ohio in November," said Paul Lindsay, a McCain spokesman based in Columbus. "These next few weeks are going to be even more critical to get that voter contact."

From McCain's Columbus office - one of 22 Victory Centers across the state - supporters man phone banks, run door-to-door operations and set up other activities that accommodate a range of skill sets.

"We continue to see folks come to our daily phone banks who have never volunteered for a campaign before," Lindsay said. "There's been renewed enthusiasm and excitement for the McCain/Palin ticket in the past week. During the convention, voters saw both candidates talk about their records of service and challenging the status quo."

Since the historic Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28, Ohio's enthusiasm for Obama also is in full swing. Volunteers have been staffing about 40 regional offices, including local headquarters Downtown and on the North Side.

"We always say that the most important investment you can make is your time," said Olivia Alair, an Obama spokeswoman based in Columbus. "We're working to mobilize grassroots support, reach out through communities and talk to our neighbors one-on-one."

In addition to phone banking, eager individuals reach out to voters via regular canvassing campaigns known as Days of Action. A networking site, My.BarackObama.com, allows activists to plan debate-watching parties and other support gatherings.

"We encourage people to give what they can," Alair added. "It really puts the election back into the hands of voters and Ohioans. People feel really good that they can take ownership of this."

Blog Log


Web: donklephant.com

As the name suggests, this blog covers two major political parties on a crash course to the White House. However, it resists the bickering you often hear from both sides. The blog includes regular poll updates and fact-checks of recent TV ads.

Poll Position

Oddly, Columbus residents feel that Democrat Barack Obama would better handle the Iraq situation, but that Republican John McCain would better protect us against terrorism. Here's more:

Who would you trust as president to do a better job handling the situation in Iraq?

McCain: 42

Obama: 46

Undecided: 12

Who would you trust more as president to keep us safe from future terrorist attacks?

McCain: 46

Obama: 41

Undecided: 13

Source: Columbus Dispatch poll, Aug. 26-Sept. 2; numbers rounded

Got a question or comment about this year's election? Want to share your thoughts on a pressing issue? E-mail jross@columbusalive.com.