ALEXANDRIA, Va.— It is raining on Election Day in Virginia. David Allen ’10, James Gleckner ’10 and David Lee ’10 are following a Google map to East Duncan Street in this Washington suburb, ground zero for Barack Obama’s statewide campaign.
“What are we doing here?” asks Allen, who arrived Sunday to phone bank and hang door signs for the Obama campaign.
“Ask if they voted,” Lee offers.
“Tell them where to vote,” adds Gleckner.
One farts (it is unclear who). They joke around, do guy things.
Lee, Gleckner and Allen are political newbies. They did not take the semester off to work for a political campaign. Their trip to Virginia to work for the Democratic presidential nominee was not at the behest of the Yale College Democrats or Republicans. The three are Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers, and they drove down here together after a fraternity event.
They stayed with fellow brother Mark Iscoe ’10 in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on Monday night. They are to spend Tuesday going door-to-door in Alexandria, making calls and manning polling places — fighting to get out the few votes that put Obama over the top in Virginia on Tuesday night.
Gleckner comes into Obama’s “Vote for Change” office at 1307 King St. at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday morning. The townhouse office is the nucleus of the city’s Democratic community — a veritable campaign arsenal stocked with laptops, Obama door-hangers, poster boards and coffee. Next door, at the office’s volunteer dispatching center, dozens of college students and young adults plan the day’s events.
Gleckner has not slept; he spent last night writing a reading response for class. He has been an Obama supporter since the Illinois senator announced his presidential bid in front of Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Ill., more than 20 months ago.
Lee, on the other hand, initially backed the presidential campaign of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73. He said he was won over last year by Obama’s charisma.
Organizers at the office split the volunteers into teams. Allen and Gleckner knock doors in a steady drizzle on Hume Avenue, a winding street of low-income housing.
“Hey, you working for Obama?” shouts a black man in an oversized jacket and sweat pants. “I just voted for him. Where are you from?”
“Connecticut,” Allen says.
“What are you doing here?” the man asks, confused.
“We’re trying to win the election.”
“I can dig that.” The man leaves.
Allen and Gleckner continue to canvass. They are tired, but they persevere; they hit door after door, stopping for large coffees at McDonald’s. Their job in this battleground state is to reach the last few voters who have not yet cast ballots — older men and women busy with nine-to-five jobs, mostly. Lee is also out on the doors in Alexandria, hitting a housing complex near the busy Commonwealth Avenue.
“Someone’s gotta do this,” Lee said. “And it might as well be Yalies.”
After they finish their walk routes, the Obama office assigns the team to wave Obama signs 40 feet from the Cora Kelly Recreational Center, a voting station in northeast Alexandria.
“We’re definitely driving under the influence,” Lee quips as they drive to Cora Kelly. “The influence of Obama! Haha.”
At the recreation center, the four hold up an 8-by-4-foot “Vote for Obama” sign. They try to give out flyers. But few voters show up during the evening — most had cast their ballots earlier in the day.
“There’s nobody,” said Barbara Stull, an election officer at Cora Kelly. “Not anymore. This morning it was packed.”
Still, the group stays, even as rain falls harder. Lee starts to muse on what working for Obama has meant to him.
“Look at Kennedy,” Lee adds. “He did very little during his 1,000 days in office. But he inspired a whole generation. You know what I’m saying? We need that.”
At 7:00 p.m, the polls close. Rosa Tucker, Cora Kelly’s election commanding officer, begins the process of calling in the total number of votes for the station. The four Elis drive back to the Alexandria office and watch MSNBC on their laptops at the office. At 7:45 p.m., with McCain leading Obama, the four leave Alexandria for Iscoe’s house to watch the race.
At 10:43 p.m., Fox News calls Virginia for Obama. In Iscoe’s living room, Lee — full on Chinese food and lounging on a sofa — waves his hands in the air in triumph. Gleckner sleeps.
At 11 p.m., the major networks call the election: Obama has won. Outside, neighbors are setting off fireworks. Allen, Gleckner, Iscoe and Lee start to pack up. Their job is done.
And with that, they are off, driving up Interstate 95 to New Haven, hoping to make morning class on time.