"If I had Aladdin's lamp for only a day, I'd make a wish and here's what I'd say..."
Lexington, North Carolina: It feels very much like Ground Zero here. Hillary will wrap up her campaign in Raleigh tonight. Here in the "Piedmont" people on both sides believe that whatever they can do in the final hours can make the difference, not just for North Carolina, but for the country.
Thirty-five years ago, I married into this battleground state. And for the past weeks, I've been here as a full-time volunteer, based in Lexington, the hometown of my wife, staying with relatives and doing what I can to help.
When I left Washington last month, my 24-year-old son asked, "so what do you do in the campaign when you get down there?"
"It's a war," I replied. You do whatever is necessary wherever you're needed."
For the past decade, I've probably spent more time volunteering in campaigns than I did as a candidate who won four successive House races. It's given me an appreciation I didn't have before, how much volunteers do and how emotionally invested they get in the candidate and the result.
We are not going to win this county, Davidson, in which Lexington resides. Romney beat Obama 70 to 30 percent here. In Forsyth County twenty miles north, the presence of Wake Forest and other colleges and a lot of transplanted northerners makes it easier. Obama won there, 53 to 45 percent.
But if we can keep Trump's numbers down even slightly from those levels, it can make the difference in winning the state tomorrow.
We think we can do that not just because of the obvious opposition to Trump, particularly among women and minorities. One reason has nothing to do with the presidential contest; there is another war raging here, one for the soul of North Carolina. Our people are energized to reverse what they regard as actions by the Republican governor and legislature to deny rights based on race and gender. Even Coach K at Duke, not exactly a Democrat, slammed them for "embarrassing" the state.
When I first visited Lexington in the late 1970s, it was a place where people were friendly but very conservative. There were no "ethnics" -- just black and white people. I was courting my future wife with two counts against me; I was a "Yankee" and a Lebanese-American. When my future father-in-law introduced me to the guys playing poker at his country club as "the young congressman from Connecticut," I asked them "do you boys ever come up north?" As if rehearsed, they said, in unison, "we try not to."
A close relative even refused to attend our wedding. She initially misunderstood Lebanese as lesbian, yet, when corrected, saw the family taking in a Lebanese as just as offensive.
The Lexington family I became part of was prominent in Republican politics. My wife's late grand-uncle is still referred to by some here as the "Father" of the party in the state. (Tomorrow, she will be among the lawyers dispatched to polling places by the Democratic party to defend against voter intimidation.)
Today, Lexington is still conservative. The dramatic decline in furniture manufacturing is complete. The only significant furniture-related business is called "Transit Damaged." They sell discounted items damaged in shipping accidents.
But there is a fast-growing diversity in the population here and an impressive manner in which people previously viewed as "foreign" are being integrated into the community. At a recent high school soccer game, I could hear players shouting at each other in Spanish. FM radio is as likely to feature a new program of Mexican as country music. And the new popular retail shop in town is the Red Donut, run by young Cambodians.
In Lolly Wolly Doodle, Lexington can now lay claim to one of the fastest-growing retail clothing businesses in the country that has built its edge on selling through Facebook.
But here as elsewhere across the country, the political discourse is more often hate-based than one of a discussion of serious issues and how to confront them. Yesterday, driving through Winston-Salem, I saw a whole new batch of signs at intersections - "Hillary for Prison".
Those citizens not engaged in those disgraceful exchanges are, for the most part, absent from the fray.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to sophomores at Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem. It's a wonderful school for a number of reasons, not the least of which their focus on improving academics over athletics.
The students were smart and attentive. But when I asked if any of them had been involved in this year's campaigns or any others, had they been in a campaign office or handed out literature or attended a rally, no hands went up. Another indication of the isolation of the populace from the machinery of democracy.
But when Michele Obama came to the same city shortly after that, an overflow crowd began lining up at 8am for the 2pm event. I arrived shortly thereafter to help train volunteers to work the event and to recruit others for the final push. At around 11am, a half hour before the doors opened, the line to get in was a half-mile long.
I went along the line, clipboard in hand, introducing myself and asking people to sign up. Many of them already had. And in that crowd, I met many blacks who were local party leaders, precinct captains and officeholders. This is at the core of the Obama legacy. Elect your first black president and re-elect him and you come away with committed citizens who know how to practice democracy and win elections.
After the Michele-Hillary rally, one of my family members who had taken her 15-year-old daughter and a friend out of school to be there, told me "they'll never be the same; they want to be involved now."
Perhaps a slightly different variety of those seeds planted by Barack Obama eight years ago are about to sprout a new generation of political activists. We are sure to see those talented young women active, committed and experienced in the years to come.
"Nothing could be finer."
Toby Moffett is a former member of Congress and a Special Advisor at Mayer Brown, LLP.
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