Trolling the deep seas of the American electorate for voters, Barack Obama and John McCain are using 21st-Century communication tactics -- emails, text messages, FaceBook, video links, Twitter, GoogleGroups -- to enlist supporters in crucial battleground states, recruiting and deploying volunteer forces, and pumping up their campaign coffers.
Questions swirl around the high-tech barrage. Have the campaigns gone too far? Are they disorganized and overlapping? What kind of real impact are the new strategies making? Is it all just too confusing, turning off rather than turning on campaign volunteers and potential voters?
As our latest Huffington Post campaign volunteers report -- nearly 240 of them -- results vary. In the collage of emails, text messages, landline calls our reporters describe that were sent out during four days in the life of the election message campaigns, the sublime parallels the ridiculous, the welcome comes in alongside the scorned and despised.
Jon Carson Playing for Keeps
"Take the day off for Barack on Election Day and volunteer," wrote Obama National Field Director Jon Carson to Michelle Kloske from Huntsville, Ala.., last Monday. Carson's email struck pay dirt.
"There was a link to click and fill out your pledge to 'take the day off and make history.' I filled out my name and other contact info and I'm planning to be a Poll Watcher at my local polling station. I go to training on November 2," wrote Kloske, clearly pleased that the Obama campaign had provided her with just the volunteer gig that fit her lifestyle and free-time allotment.
Kloske wrote that the Obama campaign was especially good at communicating information when a story pops up in the news. "They rally donors to give at crucial times. They don't spread fear and dread... . Their message has been consistent for change from the beginning. I'm a proud Obama supporter."
Running on full tilt, Carson is the main man when it comes to deploying 'voter contact' strategies and tactics. It is his name that more often appears on the millions of blasted emails on nearly a daily basis to Obama (and some McCain) supporters throughout the country.
Carson offers a myriad of "opportunities" to support his candidate in his emails.
Don't Forget to Donate
"On Saturday, I was told [by Carson] I could either take the day off on Election Day to do GOTV activities, like making calls, watching the polls, and driving voters to the polls. Two links were provided... . The email specifically targeted the grassroots of the organization and emphasized that no experience was required. Again, a donate button trails at the bottom of the message," wrote Marie Ryan McMillian from Juneau, Alaska.
McMillian didn't volunteer this time but she has volunteered after other requests, particularly attending rallies, joining the Alaska postcard writing effort, and calling voters in Colorado, a must-win for Obama this fall should he lose Ohio or Pennsylvania.
Georgene Bergestrom from Tucson, Ariz., reported receiving emails from Campaign Director David Plouffe targeting the same group as Carson, only his donation requests were specific -- from $25 -- and also included general issue information hitting recent campaign hot buttons.
Nicole Aro Is (Phone)Banking on Swing States
Another name frequently mentioned by the Obamakin volunteers is Nicole Aro, National Phonebank Coordinator for the Obama campaign. She sends emails out using the same lists as Carson -- as well as local lists -- urging volunteers and supporters to make calls in Pennsylvania (or other swing states) to "help reach their goals of 100,000 calls," according to Bergestrom.
Almost unanimously, Obama supporters contributing to this article noted that none of the emails they received directly from the campaign were negative toward any candidate and they kept their requests very specific: the campaign asked for money or help with phonebanking or canvassing.
The Obama Internet and cell phone reach is wide and deep, however, sometimes colliding with McCain voters, raising their ire and hardening their loyalties.
Independent Tracy Karol from Georgetown, Texas wrote:
"I don't think I can count the number of emails I've received from the Obama campaign, but I will try. Let's include his surrogates. The most insulting, to me, was the one telling people to "ask for the day off from work" on Nov. 4. I received at LEAST two a day from Obama's campaign, Hillary Clinton (yesterday), Bill Clinton (yesterday), or others associated with his campaign (that would include, in my opinion, MoveOn and the Huffington Post). I also receive an excessive amount of text messages urging me to vote early (I already did, and not for him)... I've received on average one email a day from either Rick Davis, Sarah Palin, or John McCain on that side... Nothing like the inundation I've received from the Obama camp, which disgusts me."
Campaign Contact Sport Risks Blowback
Grassroots campaigning in the 21st Century is a contact sport, although crossing predictable affiliation lines creates pushback from Republicans and Democrats alike and rarely sways hardcore voters away from their home-team colors.
In hard-fought Virginia, where Obama is riding high in the polls and hoping for a Democratic upset for the first time in decades, Melissa Coope from Sterling, wrote: "I receive emails from the RNC and the DNC as well as all kinds of organizations, mostly the ones I sign up for. But, I have no idea why the RNC and other conservative email lists have my name on them... I plan on volunteering for Obama on Election Day but that has been my plan for quite some time."
Doug Edwards from Los Altos, Calif., an Obama supporter, shared an email he received last Saturday from Christian Ferry, McCain-Palin Deputy Campaign Manager:
SUBJECT: Super Saturday Team
"This morning, supporters in every state gathered together for McCain Nation's Super Saturday to elect John McCain and Sarah Palin. Senator McCain took some time from the campaign trail to join us on a conference call to give us a quick update on the state of the race. We're beginning to see the polls tighten as more Americans get the truth about Barack Obama's plan to "spread the wealth around" through tax increases on hard working Americans like Joe the Plumber. Our campaign even sponsored the "I'm Joe the Plumber" video contest this week for people just like you to share why they too are Joe the Plumber. Please take a minute today to watch a few videos....If you weren't able to attend a McCain Nation event today, you still have an opportunity to volunteer your efforts from home to elect John McCain and Sarah Palin. Please follow this link to take part in our weekly Virtual Super Saturday by making 20 calls for our campaign...Thanks for all your time and dedication....P.S. Have you voted yet? Absentee and early voting is the best way to avoid the long lines on Election Day and ensure you can cast your vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin. Visit www.johnmccain.com/ab for absentee and early vote information in your home state...Join Our Team Make Calls
After receiving daily emails from the Obama campaign for months, Edwards has removed his name and email from all the Obama lists since he maxed-out his contribution limits and "doesn't need the pep talks or solicitations."
Obama Campaign Bombarding Volunteers?
Like Edwards, some of our OTB contributors have maxed out, either with money or time, and sometimes both. There have been concerns both inside and outside the Obama campaign that volunteers are being bombarded by too many groups requesting duplicate efforts and creating confusion in the volunteer corps that will "make or break the campaign."
In Tampa, Fla., Beverly Shaw wrote that she received these emails in a three day period:
"Angela Botticella, Florida Barack Obama campaign, requesting to take 5 friends with me to vote early.
The DNC about the new Obama debunking site: http://radar.barackobama.com. It also asked for us to report any "robocalls" from the McCain campaign.
Jon Carson, Barack Obama, asked me to take the day off on Election Day. "We have volunteer shifts to fill throughout the day -- make calls, knock on doors, and make sure your fellow voters get to the polls." ("Incidentally, I received this e-mail three times, she writes.")
Al Gore, supporting Barack Obama; but the email came from MoveOn.org. He also asked me to volunteer in the final days, and of course to donate financially.
Hillary Clinton from the DNC. She asked for a donation to the DNC."
Shaw noted that all the different organizations expressed the sentiment that "it ain't over till it's over." Quotes like this one from the Obama/Biden campaign: "Now let's make sure we don't wake up on November 5th wishing we had done more."
This message of "not counting chickens before they're hatched" has been increasing as Election Day nears, but Shaw also noticed a theme strongly urging her to vote early since Florida allows it.
Florida voters like Shaw, Joyce Ford, Brenda Ordonez, Gary Szasz, Tonya Lee, Joyce Ford, Kate Singleton, Crystal Karanovich, Janet McClanahan, and other Sunshine State Dems have been deluged with emails from the Obama campaign asking them to volunteer as well as to vote early and bring '5 other voters' with them.
One political consultant who insisted on remaining anonymous said, "The Obama campaign has done almost everything better online during this cycle. They have created a kind of fancy system for volunteer recruitment... funneling volunteers to field organizers, sharing national lists with them so volunteers are getting emails from potentially the national campaign, the DNC, surrogates and other national groups...It may be too deconstructed and probably needs to be more centralized, coordinated, and streamlined. They may even be doing that now."
Overkill or just cautious enthusiasm from the Democratic machine and their political allies is a big question hanging over this campaign, which won't be answered until a post-mortem by techno-political experts and doctoral students is completed months or even, years from now.
Obama Volunteer Cool Factor
Streamlined or confusing, the vast majority of Obama volunteers usually welcomed their daily emails, text messages and frequent phone calls to participate in the campaign, because as Dolly Laub from Houston wrote, "[Obama has made] volunteering a cool thing to do."
"I know that just before this past weekend I got a request from Obama's campaign to drive to New Mexico... Calling people isn't fun. But who doesn't like going on a road trip because it appeals to a what-the-hell streak in you that you might not have followed since university days. It sounded like fun and if I hadn't been working all weekend and weren't a single mother, I would have jumped at it... They [Obama Campaign] are really good at selling these ideas... But who doesn't like going on a road trip? All I know is that despite an incredible work load, the requests seem fun."
Karen Waller wrote that every time she goes into work, the staff is there but there are so many new volunteers, so many people working hard here. "It's fun and exciting. Go Obama. I will work on Thursday and Friday on the phones and will drive on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Yes, I called and went to the rally... This is Colorado!"
Final Push -- Targeting Battleground States
From the town of Centennial, Waller received emails on Friday, Saturday and Monday from her local Obama headquarters. She was asked to drive people to the polls for early voting for three days, organize voting packets and deliver them door to door, and volunteer as a runner.
Waller isn't alone.
There was a large contingent of Colorado volunteers contributing to this article since the Rocky Mountain State is one of the all-important swings, where the Obama Campaign has launched hundreds of thousands of calls from their Internet volunteer phonebanks and energized just as many boots on the ground... all the while continuing to ask for donations.
Petur Williams from Boulder received a string of emails in a four day period, starting on Friday from the Colorado Obama campaign, asking him to join Barack Obama at an 'Early Vote for Change Rally' at the Civic Center Park in Denver.
The next day, an email came shooting into his computer from the Boulderobama.com organization inviting him to a "Last in Series" $34 Family-style Evening for Obama dinner on Monday, though suggesting a $75 per person donation.
On Sunday, October 26, he received an email from Obama for America, asking him to choose an exact time and day for a volunteer shift, and to please donate.
Monday, October 27, he was invited to join Kevin Costner by the Boulderobama.com committee for a Tuesday early vote rally at CU Boulder, where he was expected to vote early and donate again.
Did all the activity, events, and donation requests prickle William's sensibilities?
"Obama's campaign is absolutely perfect [when] asking for the money. Each of the hundreds of e-mails I have gotten from them, since early in the campaign when they asked me to donate, and also, most have asked me to spread the word or enlist others. As a result of the requests, I went to various neighborhood homes to suggest that I would be happy to drive people to the polls or the County Clerk for early voting any day before the election," reported Williams.
Although residing in Wilmington, Delaware, Brooke Bovard volunteers at the local Obama headquarters' phonebank, ringing voters in Chester and Delaware Counties, Pennsylvania, and voters across Indiana. Bovard received email marching orders from Jon Carson and Nicole Aro that included attending house parties and encouraging her to make calls from home to battleground states.
Swing States in Play
Battleground states Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Nevada and Colorado are included in the list Obama's cyber-volunteers are asked to phone. Many of those emails originate from Moveon.org, Jon Carson and Nicole Aro and Terence Tolbert, Nevada State Director. Kelcie Moseley from Moscow, Idaho, receives constant emails from all of them. While she hasn't hit the 'volunteer button' yet, she does plan to volunteer this weekend.
The latest email punch lines are enough to drive the most reluctant wannabe-volunteer into a local Obama phonebank, according to Moseley:
"I know I wouldn't want to wake up on November 5 and feel like I didn't do all I could to
help elect Barack Obama as our next president," and the donate button is always at the bottom of the e-mails. They always give links, and they've been telling me regularly that no experience is required to participate."
Safe-State Volunteers Focus Elsewhere
Although Illinois is a safe bet for the Dems, many party faithful in this Midwestern state are being asked to make phone calls to other swings states, most notably, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania as well as being asked to drive to these states for face-to-face canvassing and volunteering.
Obama and McCain are locked in a tight battle for Indiana, but not for lack of trying as John Lester and MJ Shroyer reported. From Lake Villa, Ill., Lester received emails from Obama for America, requesting him to sign up for shifts later in the week if he can't phonebank over the weekend. Jon Carson asked him to phone bank rural voters in Pennsylvania and to drive to Indiana to help the Obama staff. Nicole Aro reminded Lester that they are "neck-neck in Ohio, Florida and Virginia" and encouraged him to join 'Last Call for Change' house parties and to watch Obama's special half-hour national TV program.
For MJ Shroyer in Galesburg, Ill., she was contacted by Charlie Anderson, Border State Director of Obama's Indiana Campaign, asking her to drive to Indiana and chat-up local voters. Obama Action Wire sent her a link to a website to report Robocalls and mailers to the campaign and Nicole Aro, Obama's National Phonebank Coordinator, blasted her an email inviting her to attend a 'Last Call for Change' phonebank party to call supporters in Ohio, Florida and Virginia.
Although Georgia is a full-on Red state, Obama has moved up in the polls and the Dems are challenging GOP candidates in close matches. Vida Moultrie from Alpharetta, Georgia, has been volunteering at her local phone bank reminding people to vote. She's received emails from the Georgia State Obama State Director Al Gore, and the ever-present Jon Carson.
Vida's been encouraged to vote early in addition to calling female voters in swing states. So far she's limited her volunteering to knock on local doors and phone calling but reports that former Vice President Gore asked her to drive to a swing state and volunteer with the Obama campaign.
The large California troop of volunteers contributing to this article reported that their emails in the last four days are focused more on GOTV efforts and convincing battleground state voters in Nevada, Ohio, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania to vote and vote early, if possible. Most of their work is done through cyber phonebanks run by a variety of local and national organizations like Moveon.org., the DSCC, the DNC, and the Obama campaign. Some are even attending old fashioned bake sales like Jennifer Halliday from Tujunga, California.
Playing the Guilt Card
With its persistent cascade of well-crafted emails, text messages, phone calls, door knocks and campaign ads, the Obama machine has honed the fine art of guilt as well as has any overbearing mother.
"[I haven't volunteered]...I feel guilty. I still might, but I DO give money when I get these emails, even after I swear I won't give any more, I end up donating. I am no good at going door to door and I am also not real fond of calling people, but I would like to DO something so that Obama and ALL the democrats win... so I give money....to Obama and the DCCC (who also emails me all the time)," wrote Ann Marie Testa of Villa Park, Ill.
Whatever works to shake down a few more bucks, gain an hour of someone's precious volunteer time and pull in an unwilling political soldier to slip on his or her combat boots, both Republican and Democratic campaigns will use to get their team elected to the highest office in the nation.
High tech combined with high touch obviously works. The big dealers of this game include the national parties, presidential campaigns, state and local campaign offices, Moveon.org, and various conservative and progressive organizations with a major stake in the 2008 election outcome.
Energized, visionary, turning dreary tasks into adventures -- or misadventures -- behind the drapes of a campaign's slick, sophisticated, organized, and highly disciplined facade, our insiders continue plowing through their full email boxes, returning phone calls from their campaign surrogates and various offices, and generally step-up to the plate and take a few swings hoping to change the country's direction.
The McCain-Palin ticket has their email tentacles out there, too and they are fighting till the end, which isn't too far away. No doubt, Republican and Democratic voters in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Missouri and Colorado will look forward to November 5 as much as the thousands of volunteers whose job it is to persuade, register, vote, and shake down for a few more bucks.
Whether the Obama or McCain campaigns have gone too far or not far enough in their long cyber-reach to gain votes in these battleground states, will be a subject others will unravel after the election has ended. There's no doubt, however, that harnessing these new communication technologies has irreversibly changed the election process -- and underlined again the crucial importance of the campaign volunteers who answered the call.
Thanks to all of you who contributed to this article and whose stories and insights have given a unique perspective to the new world of political campaigns: Don Alford, Tania Arias, Joanne Bartling, Dale Bauman, Heidi Becker, Laura Beitzell, Max Benjamin, Georgene Bergstrom, Jill Bernstein, Jeff Bianco, Angela Billings, Sue Bisco, Sherry Blackburn, Sonja Blair, Deb Blosnich, Beth Boal, Steve Bomber, Brook Bovard, Erica Bowsher, Stu Brann, Sally Brian, Lucy Buchanan-Parker, Dororthy Butler, Nancy Butterfield, Jody Byrne, Birgit Calhoun, Christine Calvo, Sean Camoni, Laurie Cashman, Teresa Caviness, Betsy Cazden, Kelli Joe Claxton, Erin Coffman, Annie Collart, Sheila Condit, John Cook, Melissa Coope, Gwen Cooper, Phoebe Coupe, Dolores Craig, Xoe Cranberry, Craig Davidson, Barbara Delph, Horace Demane, Julius Derico, Diane DiDonato, Kris Digiovanni, Michele Douglas, K. Dunlap, Diane Duren, Jamie Eberhard, Doug Edwards, George Evans, Joseph Faletti, Stefanie Fontanez, Joyce Ford, Sarah Franco, Michele Freemon, Donna Gagnon, Sharon Goldwasser, Peri Lyn Gordon-Flohr, Coleman Goughary, Harry Greenbaum, August Greitens, Ben Grover, Jennifer Halliday, Nancy Hammond, Claudia Hanes, Keri Hardwick, Alys Hay, Richard Hebert, Lori Hepler, Lisa Herman, Everett Holton, Dottie Hook, Patricia Hopkins, Niall Huffman, Anna Jannak, Katherine Jennings, Kirstin Jewell, Crystal Karanovich, Tracy Karol, Laurie Kaufman Amber, Marie Kent, John Kenyon, Yamini Kesavan, Launie Kettler, Dennis Kim-Prieto, Debby Kleinberg, Deb Kling, Michelle Kloske, Melinda Kohn, Erica Krause, Kathi Kuehnel, Gilberto Kuhn, Deborah Lake, Amala Lane, Stacie LaPointe, Dolly Laub, David Lawrence Stein, Tonya Lee, Lloyd Lee, Karynn Leonard, Tom Leonard, John Lester, Kelly Lewis, Madolyn Locke, Angelique Louis, Sondra Lowell, Freddrenna Lyle, Martina Macias, Julie Magilen, Roger Marle, Jennifer Marquis, Marcy Marzuki, Christina Mathis, Paula Mays, Luisa McAneny, Michael McCarthy, Janet McClanahan, Marie Ryan McMillan, Vlad Meltzer, Charles Messerly, Latoya Mitchell, Kim Mlynarski, Atla Moore, Kelcie Moseley, Vida Moultrie, Margie Nelson, Jo Anne Nelson, Bernard Nisenholz, Art Norman, Emi Nyman Giles, Bobbie Oakland, Ellen Obstler, Anthony O'Con, Octavia Oliver, Brenda Ordonez, Sarah Orsborn, Licia Owolo, Chidimma Ozor, Annette Pappas, Yolanda Paul, Charles Pavlack, Ruthann Pearson, Norman Pearson, David Pease, Anne Peck, Laura Perry, Uzoma Peter Lane, Jenny Peterson, Heidi Pickman, Wendy Piersall, Sarah Pinsker, Deanna Platt, Michele Plaut, Deborah Plummer, Adrienne Poremba, Tracy Potts, Jen Procter, Patricia Purcell, Curt Quass, Bob Raines, Linda Rasmussen, Holly Regan, Anita Rice, Richard Riehl, Michael Roe, Gillian Rosheuvel, Vanessa Ryan, Teresa Salas, Mary Ann Savard, Juli Schatz, Karen Schmitt, Amy Schroth, Kathy Schuler-Ringo, Martin Schwartz, Dennis Seese, Karen Sellars, Antonio Semeco, Sandy Semenas, Beverly Shaw, Emma Shlaes, MJ Shroyer, Kate Singleton, Antona Smith, Kimberly Smith, Neva Smith, Lorraine Smith, Georgene Smith, Derek Snow, Noreen Snyder, David Somerville, Alfred Speredelozzi, Whit Spurgeon, Sharon States, Monica Stewart, Rob Stewart, Wm Sype, Gary Szasz, Sharon Tesche, Ann Marie Testa, Theresa Tracy, Yolande Tomlinson, Jennifer Tuttle, Barbara Tymes, Anya Tyson, Richard Unice, Jeanine Vaerewyck, Carol Voigts, Marilyn Wadden, Karen Waller, Kathy Walters, Robert Walton, Amy Warner, Doreen Warner, Kevin White, Diane Wildfang, Eileen Wilks, Petur Williams, Amber Wilson, Dawne Wise, Edward Wrong, Cheryl Yeko, "Lynne," "MC," "CatoTheCensor," "Helen," "Sherry," "Mario," "J.R. Hale," "Kiran," "Carol," "Charles," "Kari," "Kimberly," and "Leslie."