Online Extra: Political Notes: Obama campaign targets southwest states
by Mathew S. Bajko
Californians looking to help re-elect President Barack Obama should pack their bags, as the campaign is virtually ignoring the Golden State and focusing local volunteer efforts on four southwest states.
As the Bay Area Reporter noted in January, California is expected to be the forgotten state in this year's presidential campaign for both parties. For Democrats, there is no reason to spend heavily on the West Coast with polls showing it decidedly blue for Obama. In addition, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who is up for re-election this fall, failed to draw a strong Republican challenger this year, further diminishing the need to funnel resources toward the state's top two races on the fall ballot.
Among GOP members, their hopes that the June primary would be the defining end for the Republican presidential nominee fight fizzled when the rabidly anti-gay Rick Santorum dropped out. The former Pennsylvania senator's decision all but handed the nomination to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, making the state's GOP primary race an asterisk as the national press is already focused on a head-to-head matchup between Obama and Romney.
Other than scouring for cash from donors, don't expect to see much of Romney or Obama in California over the next six months. Their focus is sure to be directed instead on battle ground states like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
For the Obama campaign out West, attention is being particularly paid on Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Due to the growth of Latino voters in the quartet, and the GOP's zealous push for anti-immigration policies, Obama campaign officials believe they have a chance to flip those states to the blue column this year.
In 2008 Obama won with 365 electoral votes. To win a second term, he needs at minimum to capture 270 electoral votes. Based on polling, the campaign assumes it already has locked up California's 55 electoral votes.
"We are focusing on battleground states," Peggy Moore, the California political director for Organizing for America, which is part of Obama's re-election efforts, recently told San Francisco's Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. "If California is not going to support the president, we have a bigger problem."
Should Obama lose either Ohio (18 electoral votes) or Florida (29 electoral votes), he could recoup those with the 31 electoral votes he would gain from a sweep of the four southwest states.
"California is looking to work on those states. Without Florida or Ohio we can get to the 270 electoral votes with those four states," predicted Moore, an out lesbian who helped organize Oakland's dyke march, known as Sistahs Steppin' in Pride. "If California can help get out votes in this region, we can win. But we are still playing to win in Ohio and Florida."
Anyone in California signing up to help with Obama's re-election apparatus locally will likely find themselves phoning voters in other states encouraging them to support and vote for the president. In San Francisco alone the Obama campaign has phone bank operations at least three nights a week.
"In California we really are a phone-bank machine. We call in to the battleground states," said Moore, adding that there are only 10 paid staffers working in California who rely mostly on volunteers. "We are calling into these areas so people there don't have to."
Those interested in working for the campaign would be sent to other states, said Moore, and volunteers looking to hit the ground would be also be deployed elsewhere. Last week the national campaign sent out an email seeking people to sign up to help organize this summer.
"Through the Organizing Fellowship program, you can work in a full-time volunteer position, learn the principles of field organizing, and then carry out important grassroots activities on the ground," stated the email, signed by first lady Michelle Obama. "This summer, thousands of these organizing fellows are going to help lead our grassroots organization – recruiting volunteers and running events to help more people make their voices heard."
This past Saturday the Obama campaign office in Oakland hosted a training for people interested in assisting with get-out-the-vote efforts in other states. In places like Nevada, volunteers will hit the state starting in late summer, said Moore.
"We've been doing this since 2008. We've been building this muscle since then," she said.
So far the Obama campaign has been slow to mobilize LGBT people or specific minority communities. Last week the campaign launched its Latinos for Obama; it has yet to announce a similar LGBT steering committee either within California or nationwide.
It is not expected to formalize such a group until May, Moore told the B.A.R.
The campaign's slow rollout within the LGBT community is lamentable but not all that surprising, several local LGBT leaders told the B.A.R.
"They have to fight the battles where the battles have to be fought," said gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who said he would gladly serve on an LGBT campaign committee if asked. "It would be nice but I have not heard from anybody."
Gay San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, a former chair of the local Democratic Party, said the absence to date of an organized push to reach LGBT voters "does seem a little later than it should be. It could be a close race and they do need our support."
He recalled helping organize phone banks for the Kerry campaign in 2004 that targeted Nevada voters. Wiener said he often explains to people who ask what they can do to assist the Obama campaign locally that other than fundraise, there isn't much local work to do on the ground.
"In California we are often an ATM, but they do not do a lot of campaign organizing here," said Wiener.
The lack of attention, so far, on the state's LGBT community has led to a dearth in LGBT volunteers in California, something Moore has noticed as she travels the state.
"If we want a voice as an LGBT community, the opportunity is there," said Moore during the Alice club meeting. "I will say we are lacking across this state. I am surprised how few of us are engaged. I am a lesbian; I am out there; I would like to see you in the room."
One thing Moore suggested the campaign could do to engage LGBT supporters is organize an LGBT-specific phone bank.
"I would like to see us more engaged," she said.
Anyone looking to work this summer for the Obama campaign can sign up online at http://tinyurl.com/7xbgd65.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.