Rumors of the demise of John McCain’s Colorado ground game are greatly exaggerated.
Though we had problems finding open McCain/Republican Party offices this weekend on the Western Slope, here in Colorado Springs we had no such troubles. Most well-known for being the home of the Air Force Academy and headquarters of Focus on the Family, this is the heart of the Republican Party’s social and religious conservative base, and Sarah Palin has done wonders for the McCain ground game.
El Paso County, Colorado is a big red force that John McCain will count on this November, both for votes and for the engine of his statewide phonebanking. El Paso represented 11.2% of the statewide vote in 2000 and 11.3% in 2004, and its vote total grew from 200,747 to 241,788. Both years were blowouts, with George Bush more than doubling his Democratic opponent in each election.
Jane Neary, an enthusiastic and friendly full-time volunteer for McCain in Colorado Springs, has seen her share of election cycles. She volunteered heavily in 2000 and 2004, and told us that on some days prior to the announcement of Sarah Palin as VP, “you could hear a pin drop” in the office. Afterward, according to Jane, there has been an explosion of help and full phonebanks every day. Indeed, during our unannounced visit, the offices were packed with volunteers, mostly women calling into other counties around the state.
After fielding two calls for yard signs that interrupted our conversation, Jane spontaneously offered that most people call or drop by only for a yard sign which of course the office does not have (the McCain team is apparently trying to win the election too). As a de facto office manager, Jane bears the brunt of the upset reaction to an empty yard sign cupboard, and hears constantly how Obama has more yard signs up on the caller or drop-in’s street. We saw a long list of names and numbers of folks who had signed up to be contacted when yard signs came in. Sympathetically, I chuckled and mentioned there was something Jane ought to read.
This brought into the conversation another volunteer, Maeta Emmons, who today was volunteering for the first time this cycle. Sarah Palin’s selection did it for her. She had supported Mitt Romney in the primary, but told us that the Palin pick emotionally connected in a much broader way with so many of her friends and neighbors in a way that Romney added to the ticket would not have done. Both she and her husband, a veteran who does phonebanking to other veterans, are now fully on board the volunteer effort.
Meanwhile, though we were eager to spend today heavily covering Republican operations given our striking out this weekend, we didn’t ignore the Democrats. We stopped into both Obama’s Castle Rock and Colorado Springs offices, the latter of which has been open since June and is as robust an operation as we’ve seen in Nevada, New Mexico, or elsewhere in Colorado.
We met Robert Samuelson, a middle-aged Obama volunteer, who has been spending his days registering voters. A whiteboard in the Obama office listed different volunteers and their total numbers of registrations earned. 100 gets you a free T-shirt, and most names had earned somewhere between 25 and 80 toward that goal. Robert had 341, not including the 12 new ones he’d returned with moments after we arrived. (He doesn’t care about the shirts.) He’s lived here 15 years and hasn’t seen any Democratic presence like this one. He told us a friend of his had been here 30 years but had never seen s Democratic presidential office in Colorado Springs.
Steve Meyer, a retired Air Force Major and former political science professor who taught for 10 years at the Academy and specialized in electoral politics, told us that Obama’s presence compared to past Democratic presidential campaigns was “night and day.” Meyer volunteers essentially every day organizer hours, 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Also a former intelligence officer, Meyer is a volunteer phone bank captain near the Skyway and Broadmoor areas.
He told us that the goal for Obama has to be to get near 40% in Colorado Springs. One of the McCain volunteers had mentioned that McCain had exhorted the Colorado Springs base during a visit to help him win by 100,000 votes (Bush beat Kerry by 83,713 and Gore by 66,495 and near identical ratios). Meyer pointed out that if Obama could improve on Kerry’s 32% (Gore got just under 31% in a year when Nader got 3.5% here) and get into the 40% territory, Obama would probably win Colorado.
Neither Obama nor McCain can afford to fail to rack up big cushions in their respective base areas: Colorado Springs for McCain and Boulder (where we’ll be part of Tuesday) for Obama. McCain has more room for error, given that Republicans start with an advantage in the state, but not all that much.
What we learned today was that John McCain does indeed have a ground game presence in Colorado, with large phone banks every weeknight. Their 11 offices are mostly situated on the Front Range, but they phone bank into the entire state from their volunteer strongholds. And as we’ve seen elsewhere along our journey, Barack Obama is doing unprecedented work on his Colorado ground game, even in hostile territory.
A housekeeping note — some folks are confused as to who is where with what email address, because we get a lot of it erroneously addressed. Email to Sean Quinn — pocket99s at gmail. I’m on the road doing this battleground ground game series with Brett Marty — brett538 at gmail — and he is responsible for the original photography you see in these reports. We’re looking forward to seeing many of you on the road and on-site at the debates. We keep Nate — 538dotcom at gmail — back on lockdown in Chicago because we can’t afford to risk him as a field casualty. Just as the Vietnamese love interest told John Rambo in First Blood, Part II before being tragically mowed down, Nate’s not expendable. His giant brain also tends to scare small children and the elderly.