The Other Ohio Campaigns
How Evangelicals, the Tea Party, black churches, and unions will affect the election in Ohio.
The man in charge is Corey Lewandowski, AFP’s New Hampshire state director. As we talk, two volunteers walk in, ask for directions, and are given tote bags of AFP gear before heading out to canvass. “At every door,” says Lewandowski, “they ring the bell. If someone answers, they ask, ‘Do you think this administration’s policies have helped or hurt the economy?’ ”
This is called “persuasion” canvassing. AFP started its get-out-the-vote effort Sunday, but from the time I first checked out its operation in Virginia to the time I got to Ohio, it was using a sophisticated system of lists and tablets to have door-to-door talks, not to turn out the votes of those already persuaded. In Ohio, where early voting has been possible since Oct. 3, I was a little surprised by the focus. And then I found this strategy in other Tea Party groups.
Four years ago, Ed and Gena Bell spent the last weeks of the campaign canvassing for John McCain, on behalf of the local Republican Party, in their Cincinnati suburbs. After the 2008 elections, they became founders of the local Tea Party. This year, they’re working with FreedomWorks, the other umbrella Tea Party group, and canvassing—but not for Mitt Romney. They’re having conversations with voters who they hope will vote for the GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate, Josh Mandel. Some of the Tea Party’s membership has joined the GOP machine. Those working for big Tea Party groups, though—they’re either working quietly on “voter integrity” challenges to the voter rolls or working parallel to the party, trying to outdo it.
“Whether it’s Republicans, or Democrats, Ohio or New Hampshire, I don’t understand the relevance of parties anymore,” says Lewandowski. “They’re not using tablets. They’re using paper and information that’s probably a year old.”
The Black Church. On Saturday evening I walk down to the basement of New Hope Baptist Church, north of Cincinnati’s Martin Luther King Boulevard. The AFL-CIO has joined the community-organizing AMOS project and a group of black pastors for a small, pre-“souls to the polls” rally, starring the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He’s late, thanks to a Chicago plane delay, but a moderator says he’s driving in “as fast as he can, within the law.” When he arrives, he hangs back and lets the AFL-CIO’s Arlene Holt Baker finish her speech about how “the poll tax was very expensive” to her family, before the Civil Rights Act was passed.
Jackson’s turn. He walks to a podium and leads a low-energy version of his standard chant.
Stop the violence.
Save the children.
Stop the violence.
Save the children.
Save the workers.
Save the families.
The speech is rote, and the union volunteers sort of sit through it, but the pastors love it. “This vote suppression is going to backfire on somebody,” he says. Everybody in the room can finish the thought—since early-voting hours were extended, the Republicans will lose. “It’s better than four years ago,” says Jackson, after the speech is over. “We didn’t know it would rain. Dry machines, wet people. People voting until midnight. People are more ready now to fight the schemes.”
On Sunday, after the church service, I check out the “souls to the polls” effect in Summit County. The county is only 15 percent African-American; the polling place is in Akron, which is 30 percent African-American. Most of the people queued up to vote are African-American.
The Unions. Sunday afternoon, after I finish talking to the queued at that early-voting site, I walk a block and a half to the party Democrats are holding for their faithful. A small crowd noshes on sandwiches, chicken wings, and brownies decorated with patriotic icing. Members of the local machinists union are here. The Teamsters, I’m told, are busy at their “war room” up the road, where they’re trying to cut into the Republican advantage in the suburbs and rural counties. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, was just out there, in Brilliant, Ohio, on his way to campaign in Pennsylvania.
Molly Ball’s reporting nails it: The labor vote is Democrats’ not-at-all-secret weapon in Ohio. In 2011, while their comrades in Wisconsin were only winning two of the three state Senate recall votes they needed to take power in the chamber, Ohio unions were getting out votes to repeal the state’s Wisconsin-esque union reform bill. They won with 62 percent. Lesson 1: It’s easier to drive a ballot measure to victory than it is to defeat a candidate. Lesson 2: Of all the third-party groups fighting it out tomorrow, they know best where their voters are, and how to persuade them.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.