Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail '12

As the American Presidential race gets closer and closer, UCD student Francis McNamara details his experiences on Obama’s campaign trail in MinnesotaThe American Presidential race is unique. Its intensity and worldwide scrutiny is unparalleled. The candidates, teams, and supporters don’t respond to the news so much as they shape the news. All it requires is one wrong word, one poorly thought-out phrase and a candidate can lose. This race is close. Agonizingly close.I began my involvement in ‘Organising for America’ in August of this year. I had just begun studying in the University of Minnesota and since I wanted Obama to win a second term, I figured I might as well contribute. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a campaign team and talking to new people, anyway.Canvassing in August was a little weird at first. I had only recently arrived in Minnesota and, while I was advocating voting for Obama, in the back of my mind I was fully aware that I wasn’t from the States.I begin each canvassing day by making the canvassing packets for my team, Barack Squad. This involves arranging voter registration forms, canvass tally records, and information on that day’s designated canvassing district into a large envelope which we give to each canvasser. This allows canvassers to record who they spoke to and to maximise the amount of ground that we cover. I always prefer knocking door-to-door than phone-banking and so I head out with Barack Squad to knock on doors in a different district each day.A huge percentage of Americans aren’t registered so usually I first have to register the person to vote and then I begin to advocate voting for Obama, something which is made less than easy by how much Americans don’t know about Obama’s current term. For example, most Americans have very little knowledge of how Obamacare has directly improved their lives.To put Obama’s achievement in perspective, the past five American Presidents have all promised to change healthcare and failed. This is the most significant healthcare overhaul since 1965 and has dramatically improved access for all Americans. At first I couldn’t believe how little voters knew about Obamacare. I’m usually the first person they’ve met who has spent time explaining the benefits of healthcare under Obama.I can’t help noticing that, since August, I have yet to meet anyone who positively wants Mitt Romney to be President. I’ve met plenty of Americans who have told me that they’ll be voting for Romney, and their reason is that they oppose the Obama Administration. At times, this feels more like a referendum on President Obama than a general election.Extraordinarily, despite Romney’s statements that 47% of the country he hopes to lead believe that they are victims, the shape of the race hasn’t changed all that much. The people I’ve spoken to don’t give a damn about Mitt Romney. As a result, he has been able to continue to campaign on vague promises of tax cuts, ending tax loopholes, and reducing the deficit without any need to go into specifics. It’s incredible that Romney can all but get away with saying that simply by virtue of him being elected President, the markets would improve. In the words of Rush Limbaugh “Romney might as well be Elmer Fudd. We’re voting against Obama.”There have been some great moments along the campaign trail that I will never forget. At the Democratic National Convention watch party, due to an incredible seating oversight, I was moved to sit next to former U.S. Vice-President Walter Mondale. We watched Joe Biden fumble over his words, I turned to Mondale and said: “I bet you’re glad that’s not you up there.” He laughed and mocked wiping sweat from his brow. I had a short conversation with Mondale that evening and he reminded me of a grandfatherly figure. He was a gentleman and I will always remember meeting him.I am having the time of my life campaigning for President Obama. It’s a big commitment and my friends and I are putting in a lot of our time and energy into the campaign. Last week I met U.S. Senator Al Franken and he summed up life on the campaign when he said to me: “Forget your family, they’ll be there after the election. Forget your studies, this is more important. Work. Work. Work.”