Ground Game

As a comparison between the Obama and McCain campaigns, I just signed up at to see what opportunities there were to volunteerv. Like the Obama campaign, they’ve got a “phonebank from home” script that you can use, though their script is incredibly dull :

Election Day is Tuesday, November 4th, and John McCain is the only candidate with the experience we can trust to bring real change to Washington and get our economy back on track. Can we count on your support on November 4th? The race is shaping up to be extremely close, and your vote will make a difference. Please remember to vote on Tuesday, November 4th for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

John McCain and Sarah Palin will bring real change to Washington. They are the only ones with a plan to get our economy back on track and lower our gas prices. They’ll reform Washington and Wall Street, fix our economy and break our dependence on foreign oil, which will cut prices at the pump, help keep our families safe and move our economy forward.

When I signed up from California, they have me calling Nevada. If I’m going to be making a long-distance phone call, why not have me call Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, or North Carolina? Seems like a wasted opportunity. When I signed up at, I could make calls from home to Ohio, Colorado, or Virginia, with calling campaigns aimed at an eleven additional states.

When I looked for McCain/Palin events near me, here’s the only item that appeared :

Marathon Runners for McCain

Monday, November 03, 2008
6:00 pm to 7:00 pm

As John McCain has demonstrated to us all in his life, success is an enduring marathon of a commitment to moving forward, not a short sprint to the finish as we see with Barack Obama. Come run with pride with us and with your favorite McCain-Palin gear on as we support our candidate with the same determination he has shown us, in a five-mile run in the heart of Pasadena.

No phone banking, GOTV, canvassing, or other gatherings that might actually convince people to vote for John McCain. Just a “fun run” for the status quo. By contrast, when I signed up to volunteer for Obama, the closest gathering is a phone bank from Caltech that will be starting at 6AM and be doing two hour shifts throughout the day with the goal of reaching 20,000 voters by 5PM. Like with the phone banking, the Obama campaign has distinct targets and realistic goals and isn’t using its organizing tools simply as a way to help supporters hang out while waiting to lose.

My favorite thing about “volunteering” through John McCain’s site is when I initially sign up and click the link to “Deploy as a McCain Volunteer”, the link leads to an application. That’s right, you need to apply to help the campaign. And even before you fill out the form, you’re told :

If selected, you will be volunteering on behalf of McCain-Palin 2008.
. . .
If accepted, you will be required to arrange your own transportation to the deployment city. You will not be reimbursed for your transportation, but may spend no more than $1,000 of your personal funds due to federal campaign finance regulations.

Given this lack of local campaign opportunities and a screening process to even volunteer, is it any wonder that McCain/Palin campaign offices around the country are empty?

Offices in Troy, Ohio were closed on Saturday October 11. With perfect coincidental timing, two elderly women dropped by to volunteer but found the office shut. At Republican state headquarters in Columbus later the same day, one lonely dialer sat in a sea of unoccupied chairs. In Des Moines on September 25, another empty office. In Santa Fe on September 17, one dialer made calls while six chatted amongst themselves about how they didn’t like Obama. In Raleigh this past Saturday, ten days before the election with early voting already open, two women dialed and a male staffer watched the Georgia-LSU game. In Durango, Colorado on September 20, the Republican office was locked and closed. Indiana didn’t have McCain Victory offices when we were there in early October.

When the offices are open, they have reduced hours. We can confidently plan to get evening good-light photographs of a town after we visit the local McCain office, because we know it will be closing by 5 pm, as the office in Wilmington, North Carolina was this past Sunday. The plan is, get to inevitably closed/closing McCain office, get an hour of photos near sunset, then visit the bustling local Obama office.

When you’re doing as poorly as McCain is in the polls, the only thing that can save you is a massive GOTV effort. Thankfully, I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about that.