CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Fifty GW students traveled several hours to campaign here this weekend for presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Senate candidate Kay Hagan in a state that could be in the hands of the Democratic Party for the first time since 1976.
The students knocked on doors of targeted voters who were identified as either Democrats or independents and tried to educate them about early voting options and the polices of Obama and Hagan.
“Canvassing is a lot more personal than donating money for an ad,” freshman Krista Scheffey said. “I feel like I’m actually doing something.”
One of the targeted voters was retired teacher Linda Flynn. As her tiny white dog barked enthusiastically from the window, Flynn shared her views with College Democrats communications director Matt Ingoglia and senior Lex Ratner.
Flynn said the she planned on voting for Obama and Hagan, but she was more inspired by the policies of the Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory.
“A lot of people are ticket-splitting,” Ingoglia, a sophomore, said. “They’re not voting for Obama because they’re hard-line Republicans, but are planning on voting for Hagan because they hate (Republican incumbent Sen. Elizabeth) Dole so much.”
For a majority of the CDs, this election is not just historic because of how fervently they support their candidate. It is also significant for being the first time they voted in a presidential election. Scheffey said she felt inspired by Obama early on in the campaign.
“He spoke at my high school during primary season,” Scheffey said. “This is the first year I can vote. I’m excited; I don’t know what to expect.”
Consistent with GW’s reputation of getting students out on the front lines of American politics, the CDs received a personal pep talk from Hagan herself in one of her local campaign offices. Hagan expressed her gratitude toward the young voters, who hit the streets for her cause.
“Wow, I am so honored that you are here,” said Hagan, a state senator from Guillford County. “And I am so honored that you have come to Charlotte, N.C., to help us win this Senate seat.”
Polls show Hagan is in a close race with Dole, a one-term incumbent and former labor secretary. Ingoglia said it would be a major victory for the Democrats if Hagan unseats Dole.
“It’s a sign of something big going on,” he said. “Something seismic.”
EMILY’s List, a fundraising organization that helps elect female, pro-choice Democrats, joined the CDs along with other Democratic volunteers. The organization helped raise funds for the bus that brought the GW group down to help campaign for the state’s with 15 electoral votes.
“You’re headed to the right state,” said Susan Markham, EMILY’s List deputy political director, shortly before the bus departed from D.C. on Friday.
The young GW volunteers were a stark contrast with older local Obama campaign volunteers like Andre and Donna Demeter whose enthusiasm for the presidential candidate harkens back to landmark runs in the 1960s.
“I haven’t felt as excited about a campaign since Bobby Kennedy ran,” said Andre, 63, a Florida native who moved to North Carolina with his wife in the wake of the 2000 presidential election controversy. “I can’t think of a more historic election. Ever.”
The couple was overcome with joy that the GW CDs made the trek down to Charlotte to help the cause.
“So much for young people not caring about anything,” said Donna, 60.
Andre, a Vietnam War veteran, sported a “Veterans for Obama” sticker on his hat.
“I’m one of those that don’t fit the mold,” he said. “I’m old, and I’m voting for Obama.”
Both Andre and Donna said they voted for Republicans in the past, and Donna was once a registered Republican. But Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston turned the tide for the couple of nearly 40 years.
“I got a feeling from Obama in 2004,” Donna said. “I said, ‘I want him.'”