OHIO STATE OF MIND: In The Trenches Of Cleveland


EDITOR’S NOTE: Matt Goldfine has been working in Philadelphia and Harrisburg politics for the last five years. Tired of fretting over the polls from afar, he drove out to Ohio on Sunday to volunteer for the Obama campaign’s get-out-the-vote drive. He will be filing regular dispatches from Ohio from now to election night.

BY MATT GOLDFINE BUCKEYE STATE CORRESPONDENT Overall things are looking good here in Ohio. The latest polling in the state show Obama’s narrow lead holding — a sure sign that it’s reliably true, Romney’s pollster called the poll “a piece of crap.” Now, I am the last person to believe polls to be the word of god. First, if there is a god, she probably speaks an ancient African language that doesn’t have words for regression analysis, sampling error or the Colbert bump.

Secondly, I have seen first hand that polls can be wrong. In the spring, when I was running Brian Sims’ campaign for the PA House, we did a poll a month and a half out from election day that showed us losing 46% to 20% in a best case scenario. Funny thing is, we won. We knew the data seemed off and we had a very well organized ground game, which can move the needle even father in a small race than in a major election.

But polling a small state house race is very different than polling a presidential race. Not only do the major pollsters use larger sample sizes, but because the universe of a statewide electorate is much larger than in a tiny legislative race, the conclusions that can be reached from such a data set should be much more reliable. And, on top of that, pundits do not run the major polling blogs, statisticians do. Statisticians who are modeling based on multiple polls and using anecdotal variables to enhance their data-crunching not drive it, unlike pundits at Faux Fox News who start with conclusions and then pick the data to support their argument.

The polls do have me feeling hopeful, but burying myself in the grunt work of the final days of the campaign here in Cleveland has put me in an even better mindset. There is nothing more soothing to a worried organizer than hearing volunteers making calls to remind identified supporters to vote. Because of early voting here, every other call ends “Thank you so much, that’s great! And we’re going to win here in Ohio because of your vote!” And on top of that, there’s little time to worry when you’re waist deep in logistical planning for the final weekend before an election.

Three days away from E-Day, campaign staffers are glued to chairs, transfixed on their laptops and barking rapid deployment orders into multiple cell phones. We’ve been overseeing hundreds of phone calls, scheduling and confirming volunteers for the weekend’s massive get out the vote effort (GOTV). Across the country, thousands of campaign staff and volunteers are plugged into the effort through one web platform: VoteBuilder a.k.a. the VAN. The VAN (voter activation network) is the voter database behind VoteBuilder, which has a monopoly on field organizing on the left. It contracts with every state party, DNC’s organizing arm, OFA, and independent left leaning groups use the platform with their own datasets. Right now across the country, VoteBuilder is being used to run phone banks, cut turf for canvassing and schedule volunteer shifts.

Over the last week the Sherrod Brown campaign has scheduled thousands of volunteer hours in VoteBuilder and our combined effort with OFA this weekend will deploy boots across Cuyahoga County to increase Democratic turnout. While we’re directing traffic on the ground we will have air support coming in too.  Phone bank volunteers based in solidly blue states across the country will be dialing in to Ohio to help our effort. And we need all the help we can get, because the voter intimidation continues.

Yesterday one woman from the county party told us that when she asked one African-American voter if she had voted early, she said that there was no way in hell she would. According to what she’s heard on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she doesn’t trust that if she votes early her vote will be counted. After dispelling the rumor, she encouraged the woman to vote for all of the Democrats. The woman explained another rumor she heard: that if she pushes the button to vote straight Democrat, her vote for Obama may not count. The rumor must have come from out of state, because there is no button to vote straight party ticket in Ohio, but it was nevertheless troubling. And so was hearing that Instgram is emerging as a social networking hub that I may have to learn in order to keep up with the times. Seriously, another one?

For the first time since I’ve been in town it’s stopped raining. Now that most things are mostly set for the weekend, I will get my first chance to get out and knock some doors myself. I will be knocking in the Clark Fulton neighborhood, a working class community on Cleveland’s West Side. I think it’s about half white ethnic and half African-America/Latino. These are the voters that will likely win the election for Obama in Ohio, and thereby the Electoral College.

It’s here in the 14th Ward where I’ll be sending hundreds of volunteers to knock doors from today to Tuesday. After all of the TV ads and the punditry, I’m always encouraged by the fact that campaigns are often won by the simple act of neighbors talking to neighbors on their stoops. Something that Instagram will never be able to do.

PREVIOUSLY: OHIO STATE OF MIND: Live & Direct From The Front

PREVIOUSLY: OHIO STATE OF MIND: Bowzer & Me Save Democracy