Obama camp digs heels into Southern Crescent

By Joel Hall


As Barack Obama's presidential efforts have progressed in Georgia, the campaign has opened offices around the state, 10 in all to date. A month and a half ago, the Democratic candidate opened a new office on Mt. Zion Road in Jonesboro to target voters in Clayton, Henry, Butts, Fayette, Coweta, and Spalding counties.

Primarily a Democratic county, Clayton has been a comfortable base of operations for the campaign's efforts in the Southern Crescent. According to volunteers, however, getting people registered and to the polls poses a greater challenge than getting people to believe the message.

"The results were so low for the local elections," said Markgetta Langford, a volunteer with the campaign for a little more than a month. "I think, sometimes, people give up because they don't get the desired result they are looking for. We're trying to get as many people registered as we can before the Oct. 6 deadline."

With 136,901 registered voters in Clayton County, just over 20 percent of the electorate showed up for the July 15 primary, and only 19 percent for the Aug. 5 runoff. Pam Frazier, a volunteer with the Obama campaign since January, said the campaign has spent a considerable amount of its time and resources registering disenfranchised voters.

"For me, the most challenging part is the voter apathy," said Frazier. "We try to stress the power of their vote. The person who is in charge is going to be making decisions, and it's important to have somebody in place who best represents your values."

With the exception of a few scattered posters, the Obama office on Mt. Zion Road is devoid of campaign material. Rather than spend time passing out buttons and fliers, volunteers have hosted non-partisan voter registration drives at various businesses and other high-traffic areas.

While volunteers do not wear or distribute Obama paraphernalia during voter registration drives, it has still been a challenge for volunteers to find amenable host businesses, said Langford.

"Businesses don't want to seem partisan," said Langford. "Sometimes, we get told, 'no,' but we persevere. We always try to let them know that we are registering them to vote in general, not for any political party."

Langford said in order to attract people, campaign volunteers have been making a lot of phone calls, as well as hosting "house meetings" to give potential voters a change to speak, one on one, with campaign workers about where Obama stands on the issues.

"You won't see a lot of paraphernalia around," said Langford. "You have to approach it on a personal level. It becomes more personalized when they can find out why you are doing it."

As of Monday, the John McCain for President campaign has no campaign offices in Clayton County. Mario Diaz, southeast regional communications director for the McCain campaign, did not know the number of campaign offices in the state of Georgia, but said "the McCain campaign has already done numerous events in Georgia."

"Not since 1992 have voters in Georgia opted for a Democratic Presidential candidate, and this year will be no different," said Diaz. "We are putting the necessary resources into Georgia to win."

Caroline Adelman, communications director for the Georgia Obama campaign, believes, despite low voter turnout during local elections, there will be a high turnout for Obama on Nov. 4.

"This is the fifth presidential campaign I have worked on in Georgia and this is completely different," said Adelman, who worked for campaigns in 1992 and 1996 for Bill Clinton, in 2000 for Al Gore, and in 2004 for John Kerry. "It's community based, neighbor-to-neighbor ... we are creating an infrastructure of friends and neighbors talking about Obama.

"We're please with our reaction from the community, but we still have our work cut out for us," said Adelman. "We plan on working everyday until the election to reach voters, talk to them about the importance of this election, and what Obama stands for."