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On the Road: Tippecanoe County, Indiana

“In this country sometimes we forget that we have the capacity to shape our own destiny.”

– Birch Bayh, Lafayette, Indiana 10/5/08

Senator Bayh -

Another fall weekend, another two heavy days of doorknocking. In Lafayette, according to Mia Lewis, a volunteer team leader who’s seen many cycles here, “it’s like we’re in an alternate universe.” Barack Obama is here to play — hard.

Yesterday, we stopped in Lake County — and we haven’t heard the last of that location in this series — to the sight of giant mounds of returned canvass walk clipboards. We weren’t sure what was more impressive, the hundreds of stacked clipboards, or the discovery that this was only half of the Gary office’s daily haul. With a giant engine of potential Democratic canvassers in neighboring Chicago, as well as an even larger in-state volunteer base, Lake County’s volunteer energy has to worry Republican strategists who need Indiana to stay red. If it doesn’t yet, it should.

Here in Lafayette, in Mia Lewis’ “alternate universe,” the volunteers have begun to run out of turf — because it’s already been canvassed. Although John McCain has only one field office open in the state, Barack Obama has two on the same block. One is a large phone bank office, and a few doors down on the corner is the canvass staging area. We heard stories from volunteers who sometimes canvass because the phone bank is so frequently packed to capacity that if they want to volunteer, knocking on doors is the only option.

Although the Purdue University volunteer effort is robust and proud, it may be more remarkable that it’s not really the student population dominating the volunteer effort. Purdue’s Students for Barack Obama has an entirely separate office and canvass staging area. From what we observed, many more locals who are nonstudents drive the ground effort.

In 2004, George Bush won Tippecanoe County by a 3-2 margin and 10,079 votes. Tippecanoe accounted for 2.1% of the statewide total. Barack Obama competed hard here during the primary and beat Hillary Clinton by a similar margin.

Retired Senator Birch Bayh has been on a surrogate tour of Indiana, and spoke to approximately 40 volunteers here in the Lafayette office a short while ago. Bayh, legendary for his support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the primary architect of both the 25th and 26th Amendments (not since the founders can one man claim that distinction), gave a moving speech to the assembled group. Bayh was the principal sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment and highly influential in getting Title IX passed. He is also the guy who pulled a seriously injured Ted Kennedy from the wreckage of a small engine plane crash in 1964. The guy has been around.

He talked about his own grassroots campaign that first elected him to the US Senate in 1962. What he’s seen with Barack Obama’s operation in the state of Indiana this time around reminds him of that grassroots surge that won him the Senate seat in this traditionally red state. After speaking about the value of an engaged citizenry, and the consequences of detaching from the public policy arena (the previous eight years being his primary example), Bayh made a prediction.

On the night of November 4, at that early six o’ clock hour that is almost always an immediate blot of red in a largely empty map (Indiana reports early), America is going to see something different this time.

A dot of blue.

Canvas Clipboards -

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

– Birch Bayh, quoting the final line of JFK’s inauguration speech.