Illinois Volunteers Have Created "the Biggest Electoral College State"

By Al Giordano

HAMMOND, INDIANA; OCTOBER 25, 2008: Surrounding Senator Obama's state of Illinois and its 21 Electoral Votes are three states won by George W. Bush four years ago: Indiana and Missouri (each with 11 EVs), and Iowa (7 EVs). The McCain-Palin ticket has made multiple visits to those and other surrounding states that it claimed would be in play: Michigan (17), Wisconsin (10) and Minnesota (10), where the Republicans held their national convention last month.

Chicago may just be the best city in the country to base your presidential campaign - in terms of the Electoral College - if you count with a cadre of well-trained organizers and volunteers ready to travel a short ways to register voters, knock on doors and help get out the vote in the neighboring swing states: Add 39 contiguous Electoral Votes in play and another 27 in battleground states close enough for day trips, and the region holds a whopping electoral prize of 87 EVs. That's more than the 73 on the West Coast or the 74 in Greater NY (with PA, NJ and CT).

As a native New Yorker, doing this math has been a humbling experience!

During the caucuses and primaries, Obama's organization under-performed the polling numbers in some regions, but in the key states surrounding Illinois it over-performed: Before the Iowa caucuses on January 3, the average had Senator Clinton leading by 1.4 percent (Obama held a slim 1.6 percent lead in the final five polls), yet Obama conquered there with 38 percent to 29 (that included second choice votes from supporters of also-rans); the entrance poll had it Obama 35, Clinton 27, an increase in the polling lead by 6.4 points.

In Missouri, prior to the February 5 presidential primary, Senator Clinton led the polls by one percentage point, but Obama won the state by a point: an increase of two points.

In the February 19 Wisconsin primary, while Obama led the polling average by seven points, he won by 17 percent: an increase of ten points.

In the May 6 Indiana Primary, Clinton was ahead in the polling average by 4.2 percent: Obama closed the gap to two percent, an increase of two points.

In each of these key primaries and caucus, the difference between the polling results and the voting results was the field organization: that which was natively grown but also the waves of volunteers and organizers from Illinois that flooded into each of those states, including many doing it in single-day or weekend trips.

During the general election campaign, th e number of Illinois volunteers that have gone to neighboring states to campaign has risen even more dramatically. Obama's home state campaign offices count with field organizers responsible mainly for the task of recruiting, organizing and scheduling those trips. In these final weeks of the campaign, the bulk of them are working in Indiana and Missouri (some Chicago-based volunteers in Hammond, Indiana this morning told The Field that they had been working in Wisconsin weeks ago, but had since been redeployed to Indiana).

The Field arrived at the hall of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 599 ("Since 1899" boasted the front of the building) today at 9:30 a.m. to find 30 automobiles parked in the lot already: most of them with Illinois plates, but also from Indiana and Michigan. Inside, volunteers were trained, armed with literature, pens and clipboards, and put into teams of two to canvass the neighborhoods and promote early voting. "People in Indiana," one Chicago woman told me, "are really nice."

"They're glad to see us," said another, Judy. "Some people are surprised to know that you can vote early."

Diane, also from Chicago, clipboard in hand on her way out to canvass, must have thought I was a local reporter: "Your state," she said, "is on the verge of being Obama-ized!"

Most of the visiting volunteers mentioned that this was not the first time they had been to Hammond: for many it has become a regular weekend activity, returning to the same town over and over again to knock on doors.

Many volunteers reported they had signed up to travel to do this work via Obama's Drive for Change web page.

According to the 2000 US Census, Hammond counts with 83,048 residents: 62 percent of them non-Hispanic Caucasians (more than half of those of German, Polish or Irish descent), 15 percent African-American, and 21 percent Hispanic. It's a town typically of smallish single-story homes, in many cases with the accoutrements familiar to areas that struggle economically: chipped paint, overgrown yards, some abandoned houses or buildings here and there. The per capita income in Hammond is just $16,000. A healthy number of stores have signs in Spanish.

A short drive down Michigan Avenue as it turns into Fifth Avenue and the city of Gary - population 102,746 - and the number of abandoned buildings and overgrown vacant lots increases dramatically.

Gary, after all, is the poster city for corporate capitalism. What industry attempts now on all fronts, it accomplished in Gary more than a century ago: It kind of privatized an entire city: Gary is a municipality that was founded by a corporation: US Steel in 1906 (one of the running jokes in the musical The Music Man, which takes place in Iowa in 1912, is that the huckster-turned-good-guy Harold Hill sings to the locals that he grew up in a magical town named Gary, Indiana - which, of course, did not exist when the character would have been growing up).

By 1943, Gary was a booming steel and rail town, and headquarters of US Steel which then had more than 340,000 employees. By 2000, though, the company counted with just 52,000 jobs nationwide. Gary's per capita income is $14,383 and demographically you can take the Hammond numbers and flip ‘em: 84 percent African-American, 12 percent white, five percent Hispanic.

Across Fifth Avenue from the city Fire House and the US Steel Steelyard stadium, home of the baseball RailCats, there's a large complex that serves as the city Obama campaign HQ. At 10:30 a.m. there are 60 cars in the parking lot and street nearby, most of them, again, from Illinois.

Entering the building, there are two lines: one for local volunteers, the other for those coming from out-of-state. The bevy of campaigners getting ready to go out and canvass arrived for the 10 o'clock shift; another sh ift will arrive at 11, including from the African-American Students Association at the University of Chicago. One of those volunteers (and Field Hand) Henry Gruber mentions that since this is officially "parent's weekend" at the university, many of students have recruited their visiting folks to join in the Indiana canvassing this weekend. (Henry's mom, who attended our Field Hands gathering in Chicago last night, came to Indiana today with him.) Since school came back into session last month, the number of volunteers in Gary has grown to the point where the campaign, says Gruber, has added four satellite offices in Gary to accommodate the organizing of so many volunteers.

Lake County (home to Gary and Hammond) and Marion County (Indianapolis) count for almost 20 percent of the population of Indiana, including its highest African-American populations. Maximum voter registration, early voting, and turnout could make them even more influential on November 4.

Not that the rest of the state is getting a short shrift: there are at least 42 Obama field offices throughout Indiana (not counting those satellite headquarters in Gary or elsewhere). And since the final presidential debate, Obama himself has been in the state twice.

The results of this flooding of the zone with volunteers is quantifiable: According to today's Indianapolis Star, more than 221,000 early votes had been banked from October 6 through last Thursday (fast approaching and about to surpass the 260,000 early votes cast in all of 2004).

According to the most recent Survey USA poll of Indiana (Tuesday and Wednesday of last week), Obama holds a small three point lead overall and a four point lead among early voters (as of then, twelve percent of the electorate told the pollster they had already voted; there's no breakdown of how many of those might have included absentee ballots).

Among the 12 percent that report they have already voted, Obama led with 50 percent to 46 for McCain: and this is a state that George W. Bush won by 21 percentage points in 2004.

The average has the contest a dead heat in Indiana ( gives Obama a 54 percent likelihood of winning it), and if it happens there will be little doubt that field organization made the difference, and redrew the Electoral College map.

In the other states surrounding Illinois, Obama is even stronger: Up by an average of 15.9 percentage points in Michigan, by 11.5 points in Iowa, by 9.4 in Wisconsin, by 8.8 in Minnesota and by 1.6 points in Missouri.

Similarly, 538's computer generated model gives Obama an 100 percent chance of victory in Michigan and Illinois, 99 percent in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, and a 67 percent likelihood of winning in Missouri.

Obama's home state volunteers in Illinois - and their willingness to give up their weekends and travel "abroad" to do the heavy lifting of the campaign alongside local volunteers - might be succeeding in making an entire region the "biggest Electoral College state."

Two states in that region, Indiana and Missouri continue to be within the margin of error. Meanwhile, the day-tripping volunteers are adding perhaps just enough extra muscle to paint them blue. 

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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