Monday, October 13, 2008

Obama Opens More Panhandle Offices

Last week, two get- out- the- vote offices for Barack Obama opened in the small Florida towns of Pace and Navarre.

When added to the main Pensacola office for Barack Obama's campaign in Northwest Florida and official county political party offices, that makes five campaign sites promoting the Democratic presidential ticket in the two western-most counties of the state.

Not since Jimmy Carter ran for president in 1976 has there been such a broad-based presence in this reddest of red state areas of the country.

In Pace, the Obama office is located at 4367 5th Ave. The Navarre office is adjacent to Midway Mini-Storage at 5422 Gulf Breeze Highway, within a mile or so of the weekend flea market.

These aren't your big, slick campaign headquarters-type offices, filled bustling workers in white dress shirts and ties who look like they walked right off the set of West Wing. The get-out-the-vote offices are small, cramped, and stuffed with donated equipment and make-shift furniture. Orange crates would be embarrassed by some of the desks we saw.

The primary mission these offices serve is, first, to identify and, second, to assist Obama-leaning voters to cast their ballots from now to Election Day. Absentee ballots can be requested now from your local election supervisor's office. Early poll voting in both Santa Rosa and Escambia counties begins next Monday, October 20 and runs through Saturday, November 1. (In some other Florida counties, early voting may continue through Sunday, November 2.)

Election Day is Tuesday, November 4.

Locally, volunteers are being recruited to telephone or canvass door to door registered voters. In Navarre, two young staffers work the phones calling voters in Gulf Breeze, Navarre, and Midway, scheduling neighborhood canvasses, and politely explaining to the occasional visitor the narrow focus of their mission.

Campaign contributions are not accepted at the GOV field offices. They have only a limited supply of Obama-Biden buttons on hand and don't do media interviews. All of that is handled out of Obama's western Florida campaign headquarters in Pensacola.

"This is a working field office," a volunteer explains to an elderly couple who stopped by in hopes of picking up a yard sign. The office doesn't happen to have any yard signs on hand at the moment, he apologizes, but the volunteer takes their names and promises to try to find one for them.

By sheer luck, before the couple leaves a volunteer drops by and a dozen Obama T-shirts materialize along with a small box of Obama-Biden buttons. The couple happily selects a few buttons and a T-shirt and leaves their name and number for when more yard signs arrive.

Asked how things are going, the volunteer declined to be interviewed for the record. "We don't do media here," he says.

From what we could see, things are still in the early stages of recruiting and training volunteers, but the slim staff is surprisingly upbeat. While they undoubtedly know the Obama-Biden ticket faces an uphill struggle in Santa Rosa County, which hasn't voted Democratic in decades, the level of enthusiasm is high.

Most local voters only now are beginning to focus on the election. We overheard a few anecdotes about voter contacts that have gone well -- and a few that went badly when "the elephant in the room", as Pensacola News Journal columnist Reginald Dogan put it recently, reared its head.

"A lot of independents tell us they plan to vote for Obama," one campaign worker says. "For many, it will be the first time they've voted Democratic in years." He adds, "A good many Republicans are secret Obama supporters, too."

To volunteer, obtain, more information about the Obama-Biden ticket, or for help in getting to polls South Santa Rosa county voters can telephone "Matt" at (850) 291-2210. North Santa Rosa County voters for now can call "Nick" in the Pace office at (304) 890-4266.

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