Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Democratic Convention

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

 We went to Denver for the Democratic Convention, which proved to be the best, and the worst, of times.

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 046 The highlight was, not surprisingly, Thursday night at Mile High Stadium/Invesco Field.  The atmosphere was electric, and we got there early enough to see the 80,000 seat capacity stadium fill up with attentive and enthusiastic supporters.  Barack Obama’s speech lasted some 45 minutes, but in person it felt like just ten minutes.  My children were seated on either side of me, and they asked lots of questions, and seemed captivated as well. 

What was so impressive about Obama’s speech was that he managed to lay out the case against John McCain (something some were concerned he wouldn’t do) without being personal.  And he did a great job of describing some specifics of what his administration would focus on and achieve.  But most of all, he did an amazing job of addressing a crowd of 80,000 and another 38 million watching on television in a way that seemed personal and connected.  He is, without question, a once-in-a-generation speaker, and is now doing a great job of articulating how his values and vision will translate into governance.

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 042 Our time in Invesco was pure magic, and we will all be forever glad that we were there in person to witness history.  It was such a great experience, and I have no regrets about going there.  And I’m thrilled that my children could witness history first hand, and hope this will be an experience they can tell their children and grandchildren about.  But as for the rest of our time there . . .

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 015 We had some personal commitments and couldn’t head to Denver until Wednesday.  We spent most of the day Wednesday there and the full day Thursday.  After arriving on Wednesday we were excited to go to the Pepsi Center (home of Denver’s professional basketball team) for an evening featuring Bill Clinton and Joe Biden.  We took a cab there, or so we thought, but traffic was at a standstill.  So we got out early and walked the rest of the way.  After about a 30 minute walk (much of which was navigating through security and to the arena), we got to the security checkpoint (very tight security everywhere) and eventually entered the arena, not at all prepared for the scene inside. 

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 005 The Convention Center was jammed to capacity and then some.  Our passes said “Honored Guests” but that didn’t move the needle.  After an hour or so trying to get into the viewing area, we faced reality , gave up, and headed back to the hotel.  Easier said than done.  We walked quite a distance to get to the shuttle buses, only to learn that they wouldn’t start running for another hour!?!?  So we retraced our steps (about a half mile each way) to get back to where we started, only to walk back to the hotel (about a 45 minute walk), arriving just in time to see the last five minutes of Biden’s speech on television.  Ouch!!  This wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for by flying to Denver.

We re-grouped, determined not to make the same mistake twice.  Thursday would be better, if for no other reason than it couldn’t be much worse.

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 035 I went to a National Finance Committee meeting Thursday morning and got a chance to hear Michelle Obama (always so impressive) and Joe Biden.  It was the first time I’d heard him, and he’s an impassioned public speaker.  I was mildly positive about the initial choice of Biden (my preferred VP was Chuck Hagel), but he’s grown on me, and seems to be stepping into the role confidently and effectively.

Iowa 074 We then had a chance to view a preview of a documentary being filmed on Barack Obama’s implausible run for President.  Two women had heard about Obama in 2004 and decided to follow him in the event he decided to run for President.  They’ve been tracking him since the very beginning, and have over 500 hours of footage already.  We got a chance to see the segment on Iowa.  I was there for the caucus, and these film-makers got it exactly right.  I can’t wait to see the film when it’s released (due sometime in 2009).

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 016On a gorgeous Thursday, we headed to Mile High Stadium (home of the Denver Broncos football team).  Early.  Very early.  We passed through some very tight security and found our way to unreserved seats at about 2:00 p.m., a mere SIX hours before Barack Obama would begin speaking!!  After missing everything on Wednesday, we left nothing to chance, even though it meant we were some of the first people in the stadium.

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 011 On the way in, we saw a very remote area designated for protesters.  The fence was quite high, and it was actually hard to figure out what their concern or cause was.  In general, we came to Denver expecting to see lots of discord.  But there was almost no evidence of unrest, and we were struck by the widespread level of harmony and fellowship.

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 029The schedule began at 3:00 p.m., and contained a bit of everything — entertainment, comedy, some moving speeches, some great musical performances, and some pretty dull speeches.   Highlights were Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder, Al Gore’s speech where he noted that he knew a bit about close elections, andDenver Democratic Convention, 2008 032 six “everyday Americans” who shared their experiences in a very  moving and passionate way.  The one I’ll always remember is a gentleman named Barney Smith from Indiana, who had lost his job and was having a rough time with health insurance.  He concluded his remarks by saying, “I want a President who cares more about Barney Smith than Smith Barney.”

Denver Democratic Convention, 2008 038 Our seats ended up being about ten rows in front of where Hillary Clinton was sitting.  I wasn’t in Denver to see her speech on Tuesday night, but was impressed with how graceful and supportive she was during the convention.  Having come so close, it’s inevitable that she would have very mixed feelings about the outcome, but she seemed radiant as she took in the proceedings, and gracious when her presence was recognized. 

After Barack’s great speech, we returned to the torture zone.  Getting back from Invesco was challenging beyond belief, and we patched together a miserable combination of waiting, walking, taking the light rail (crammed beyone belief) and a shuttle bus (even more crammed).  It took an hour and a half to get back.

We left on Friday morning, but not before another highlight.  I went down early to buy a newspaper and a cup of coffee and ended up in line behind Tom Brokaw.  We talked a bit about the convention and the chaos in security and logistics.  He’s such a wonderful person, and I’ve often thought how great it would be to have him in office.

Friday’s other noteworthy event was learning of McCain’s choice for Vice President.  If his goal was to shift media attention from Obama’s great speech to the Republicans, he accomplished that.  If his goal was to manage a thorough and careful process to pick an outstanding running mate, he botched it beyond belief.  I work with tiny little start-ups and if a CEO ever told me, “I’ve just hired a VP that I’ve heard really good things about and met once for fifteen minutes,” I’d fire the CEO on the spot.  But somehow John McCain can completely fail to do his homework for his most important pre-election decision, and then blow his stack when reporters question his judgment. 

The Greatest Generation

Monday, June 16th, 2008

A book that should be must reading for every teenage and adult American is Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation.  The book consists of a series of brief (2-5 page) vignettes from different people representing elements of our Greatest Generation.  And it’s an inspiring story.

The book draws on concise personal histories of those who fought in World War II, those who helped at home in the war effort, and those who made major contributions to re-building the U.S. and Europe after the war.  Some of these people are famous, and some are quite anonymous.  But each, in his or her own way, helped America stand up to the very real threat to world peace posed by Hitler and the Axis nations, or helped the world re-build after the devastation wrought be World War II.

At the conclusion of this book, I couldn’t help but agree with Brokaw’s rationale for calling this generation of Americans our “greatest” generation.  My experience with U.S. involvement in wars has been limited to two bankrupt and ill-conceived initiatives — Vietnam and Iraq.  Neither made a shred of sense, cost us many lives, tore our nation apart, and cost our government, to a large measure, the trust of its own people and peoples around the world. 

But World War II was different.  The dangers posed to the free world by Germany and Japan were immense, and their atrocities were beyond words.  The U.S., after being bombed by the Japanese, entered the war and U.S. citizens willingly sacrificed in every conceivable way, and some 418,000 people from the U.S. gave their lives to protect the free world, in a war which resulted in the death of almost 73 million people

If you haven’t read The Greatest Generation, go out and buy it today.  You’ll read it in a short period of time, and won’t want to put it down.  But this “greatest” generation stands in stark contrast to today’s, when we pick foolish wars to waste lives on, and where almost no one is willing to sacrifice in the face of challenges — global warming, energy, the divide between the rich and the poor — that threaten the future of the entire world.

Three Cups of Tea

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

For several years, I overlapped on the Board of the National Venture Capital Association with Jim Breyer of Accel.  And Jim has been kind enough to send me a book each year that bears on the world.  This year he sent me Three Cups of Tea, about one man’s mission to fight terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, one school at a time.

Three Cups of Tea is a phenomenal book, and something I’d recommend each of you read.  I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks as we travel, and then I summarize and re-tell it to our family each morning over breakfast.  Every morning, my children say, “Daddy, what’s happened to Greg?”  Greg is Greg Mortenson, the entrepreneur who started the Central Asia Institute, whose mission is to provide schools and educational supplies to poor children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who are so hungry for knowledge. 

I would love to see this book be mandatory reading for any U.S. citizen prior to voting, or any U.S. Senator, Congressman, or executive branch member.  Anyone who has read this will better appreciate the magnitude of the U.S. errors in Iraq, and question the judgment of any U.S. politician who supported this ill-conceived initiative.   Our continued disgrace in Afghanistan is a mistake we’ll regret for decades to come. 

Among many favorite sections of the book, I particularly liked a quote of Greg Mortenson’s about Afghanistan.  He said, “But as best I can tell, we’ve launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far [2002]. Now take the cost of one of those missiles tipped with Raytheon guidance systems, which I think is about $840,000.  For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that could provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced nonextremist education over the course of a generation.  Which do you think will make us more secure?”  Other than his conservative math ($12K per school means each missile is equivalent to 70 schools, and 114 missiles is about 10,000 schools!!), he couldn’t be more correct.

We have spent billions of dollars in Iraq to create millions of people who hate us far more than when we started the folly of Iraq.  The architects of this initiative (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others) will carry the responsibility for this fiasco to their graves, which will be long past the time tens of thousands of innocent people paid with their lives for the Bush Administration’s mistakes.

Caucus Day: Day 8

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

By Caucus Day, I was not feeling 100%, but today was the day, and everyone was going for the final push.  The question I faced, though, was what to do on this Thursday.   Caucus Day (a Thursday) was a tough day for canvassing — few would be home on a weekday, and phone messages would probably not be picked up until after the caucus.  And the Obama staff told all of us that we shouldn’t attend the actual caucuses, since Iowans resent the intrusion of outsiders into their process.  So for a while, I thought I’d be fired up, ready to go, and sitting in my hotel room :-( .

Caucus Day

I decided to do a couple of things on Caucus Day.  I had the campaign run off a couple of hundred copies of Barack’s October, 2002, speech on the pending Iraq War.  This speech is profound, both in its eloquence and insight.  Then, at 8:00 a.m., I started walking around downtown, just looking for people, or spots with lots of people passing by.  I’d ask all passersby if they were planning to go to the caucus and, if yes, could take two minutes to read his speech.  I’d say something like, “A candidate’s 2002 view on Iraq was the single most important test of judgment that he or she has faced in the past decade.  Read what Barack Obama had to say about it, and ask yourself if that’s the judgment and leadership you want in the White House.” 

So how did this approach go?  Well, people would take a copy of the speech from me, and then later would come back and ask for more copies.  I ran through 200 copies, and made another 200 copies.  And another 200.  Wow!  The thoughtful people of Iowa take their responsibility seriously here, and welcomed interesting new material. 

I got more good news that day!  My boss Tony Rediger needed me to be the one Obama outsider volunteer in the Precinct 14 caucus.  So I would have a chance to observe live what a caucus is all about.  It’s always great to get an upside surprise!  

I admit that after my first few days in Iowa City, I was concerned about Barack’s prospects.  I talked to a lot of undecideds, but many were leaning toward another candidate.  As the week wore on, it seemed things were starting to really go our way.  On that last day, I talked to several hundred people.  A surprising number were planning to go to the caucus (about half), many committed to Barack.  So I went to the caucus that night optimistic about Barack’s chances, and expecting a blow-out crowd.

Caucus Night

Before going further, a word about the Iowa caucus procedure.  The caucuses are managed by the two political parties in Iowa (each with its own set of rules), not the state or Federal government.  Democrats come to their caucus, stand with their chosen candidate’s group, and an initial count is made.  If a candidate isn’t viable (supporters number less than 15% of total attendees), those supporters can either leave or align with another candidate.  Then, a final count is made, the pro ratas of each candidate are used to allocate the precinct’s delegates, and delegate counts (not votes) are reported to the Iowa Democratic party.  Also, in the past, apparently, people would comment on why they supported a candidate, and there was lots of informal interaction around the re-alignment process.  Sounds simple, right??

Iowa 074 This process would probably work well with a small group.  But the huge turn-out caused huge problems.  Our caucus location was the local elementary school gym, which had a few picnic tables inside for attendees.  The gym could hold maybe 200 comfortably, but  400+ came.  People were jammed in, many were out in the hall, and the indoor temperature started to climb. 

As people filed in, they would take stickers for their candidate of chioce.  I could tell from the takers that this was going to be a great night.  It was exciting to see so many people I had already met standing for Barack.  The Obama supporters alone could fill the gym, and the little picnic table assigned to us was woefully inadequate.

Imagine trying to count supporters for each candidate.  The precinct head had those in favor of each candidate raise their hand.  Well, when you get up to 200 hands raised, spread out over a big room and a spillover hall, with people shuffling around and raising/dropping their hands, it’s impossible to get an accurate count.  They spent time discussing alternatives, and finally opted to have each candidate’s supporters leave the gym and go to separate classrooms.  When our supporters filled up first one classroom, then a second, and then a third, it was electrifying.  But separating the groups eliminated the interaction aspect of a caucus, a real concern to long-time participants.

One thing I noted was the make-up of the different groups.  Both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards had union endorsements in Iowa, and many of their caucusers wore a union shirt.  Obama had no official union endorsement, but his supporters were wonderfully diverse.  We had older people, and teenagers.  We had an African-American woman in a wheelchair.  We had young families with children in tow.  We had multiple ethnicities.  The Obama group was America.

We got an initial count at about 7:45 p.m.  Remember, the participants arrived around 6:15 p.m., and had absolutely nothing to do while they were there.  Many came from work without eating dinner.  One of my tasks was to play hockey goalie and keep any of our supporters from leaving.  That job was a breeze, since no one — and I mean no one – wanted to leave (and if you leave a caucus early, even if you’ve been there 2 1/2 hours, your vote doesn’t count).    

We then went into the rather mysterious re-alignment process.  In our caucus, Barack was way above the 15% threshold, and Edwards and Clinton were also above 15%, although a few defectors would push Clinton below.  All other candidates (Richardson, Kucinich, Dodd, Biden, and Gravel) were short of 15%.  So the groups then went into a round of “horse trading” that lasted for about 45 minutes.  One candidates’ block, short of the viability level, wanted to recruit others to it, creating a bit of grid-lock.  Precinct captains were talking to precinct captains, influential participants approached others, and — finally — these below-threshold supporter groups decided to join one of the three leading candidates.  At around 8:30, we began the final count.  The way we ended up counting was to have all supporters in a class rooms, file out slowly and be counted, file back in, file out again slowly for a second count, and then return.  Sounds speedy, doesn’t it??

For our precinct, the final count was Obama 217, Edwards 101, and Clinton 88.  We got five delegates, and Edwards and Clinton each got two.  As people headed home at 9:00 p.m. after almost three hours sitting or standing around, they seemed to have enjoyed the meeting and excited about the turn-out.  By then the news had broken that Huckabee had won the Republican caucus and Barack had won the Democratic caucus by comfortable margins.

One thing I found remarkable was how good-natured everyone was (with one exception, more later).  The gym was stifling, and the organizers had to reinvent rules in light of the huge crowd.  “Efficiency” would not be the word springing to mind to describe the process.   Obama’s staff, though, had given me great advice about how best to approach this caucus — be helpful, observe, but respect Iowa’s process and don’t inject yourself into it.   An observer for one of the other campaigns was constantly objecting to things, interrupting the precinct head, and insisting that things be done his way.  That didn’t go over too well, and probably cost his candidate supporters in the re-alignment.

I was impressed with our Precinct Captain and several others who helped him.  A woman named Tina, whose young son (about 18 months old) is named Barack, was on top of everything.  While she was focused on the process, I spent time with little Barack, who seemed to be fascinated with going into the Boys’ Room and exploring — not a good idea!  So little Barack and I found an empty classroom, where he played with toys.  [By the way, the girls' name Madison went from never being used before the movie "Splash" to becoming third most popular girl's name in 2006. I suspect we'll see a growing number of little boys named Barack and Tina's "Barack" is almost certainly the first boy in America named after Barack Obama.]

Iowa 077 I went back to the campaign office after the caucus, where it was bedlam.  Obama won a whopping 52% of the delegates in Johnson County, the team’s territory.  After some celebrating in the office, we all went to a local bar, which was packed with Obama staff and volunteers.  The night had the joy of the night in Boston in October, 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, but with an element of awe for the potential historical repercussions of the outcome. 

The room quieted when Barack Obama came on the televisions to deliver his speech about the result.  Everyone was moved by his remarks, some even in tears.  If you didn’t hear this speech, go listen it.  Barack Obama isn’t the typical politician.  

Further Thoughts

This campaign accomplished remarkable things in Iowa.  A year ago, Barack Obama had no name recognition here, no rolodex of contacts or donors, no long-term relationships, no organization, and no endoresements from influential Iowa officials or party veterans.  One leading candidate is married to a former U.S. President and they have long, deep ties to Iowa, translating into high name recognition, instant organization, and the the endorsement of many senior officials.  Another has spent a considerable portion of each year, for the past seven or eight years, in Iowa, developing personal relationships with a large number of Iowans.  The state is 95% white, with an older demographic — not exactly Barack’s sweet spot.  If Las Vegas had posted odds a year ago on Barack Obama winning the Iowa caucus, you could have gotten 100,000 to one odds against him. 

I came back to the hotel room after Barack’s speech, packed for my early morning departure, watched pundit commentary and candidate interviews.  There were two winners in this caucus (Barack and Huckabee), and the rest were hurt, many seriously.  Huckabee’s win merits an asterisk,  since Iowa’s Republican Party has a high concentration of evangelicals (remember Pat Buchanan?), and McCain and Giuliani didn’t compete here.  On the Democratic side, Obama’s win has depth to it, since the other candidates competed full stop with far stronger initial positions, and Iowans evaluated all candidates thoroughly.  The demographics Iowa’s Republican voting base gave a real lift to Huckabee, an evangelical, while the demographics of Iowa’s Democratic voting base (95% white, older) made an Obama win even more impressive.

One issue that loomed large in Iowa resulted from a gaping loophole in campaign finance law.  Today, there are very tight restrictions on how a candidate can raise money — only U.S. citizens can contribute to a candidate, the maximum you can contribute during the primary period is $2,300, and all donors are promptly disclosed.  In theory, these regulations ensure that special interest groups can’t exert undue influence over a candidate.   However, because we believe (appropriately) in the right to free speech, “independent” groups are free to broadcast their views on an election, and they can raise money from anyone, without caps, and without disclosure.  Even worse, their ads are often attributed to some official-sounding group, taking on the appearance of an important third-party endorsement.  Or they can be vicious and unsubstantiated attack ads (remember the Swift Boat ads), with little or no accountability.

In Iowa, I heard several ads for Hillary Clinton from a union, and many, many ads for John Edwards from an “independent” organization called The Alliance for a New America (see this Overlawyered blog for context on this group).  This Alliance was formed recently by Edwards’ former campaign manager.  This group can and does raise large amounts of undisclosed and uncapped money from special interest groups and spends it on behalf of Edwards.   After the caucus, reporters interviewed Edwards, who talked about how he’s the candidate taking on special interest groups and reforming campaign finance laws.  He went on to say that a major factor in his loss was being outspent by others.  These assertions went unchallenged by several reporters.  The press, I believe, has an obligation to do its homework and push back on a candidate, making sure that people know who just “talks the talk,” and who actually “walks the walk.” 

Barack Obama is the only leading candidate who refuses money from lobbyists or PACs and won’t condone “independent” organizations raising money and running ads on his behalf.  The distinct impression I get is that, while Obama is intent on winning, he won’t compromise his integrity, and he won’t sell his soul to special interests.  He’s serious about not saying negative things about other candidates, and won’t tolerate or prompt surrogates to do so.  He’s serious about not taking money from special interest groups and jeopardizing his objectivity.  And he’s serious about running a dignified, respectful, honorable campaign.

This week in Iowa was incredible.  While the caucus process has its flaws, and may need serious revamping if participation continues to grow, I have enormous respect for Iowans and their approach to this process.  They really study the candidates and their positions.  It’s intense face-to-face politics, and useful in our process of vetting the candidates.  At times, though, I was reminded of a very old Saturday Night Live skit, where seven of the candidates are all shown doing household chores for one family in Iowa.   This is pretty intense one-on-one campaigning. 

While it wasn’t always fun, it was satisfying to have made some personal sacrifice to participate.  I missed my wife and children for the week (longest time I’ve ever been away from them!), but truly believe that helping to get Barack Obama is the best possible thing I can do for my children’s future.  I’m sure my contributions were largely irrelevant.  But over sixty fellow National Finance Committee members came to Iowa for Obama, all braving the frigid conditions to try to advance Barack’s cause.  And at least one other senior venture capitalist (John Thornton of Austin Ventures) and two CEO’s of operating companies (Dave Alberga of and Steve Spinner of Sports Potential) also came to Iowa. 

After traveling this fall in places like Tibet, where people would do almost anything to have an open election, I have a new perspective on the importance of getting involved in our electoral process.   Over the past forty years, just 50% of eligible voters in the United States have voted in major elections.  On that metric, we rank 35th of industrialized nations — 35th!  Much of our future is determined by the officials elected to office, yet half of the eligible voters in the U.S. can’t be troubled to go to the polls. 

So if you’re reading this, think about how disastrous the current administration has been.  And think of how much, or little, you did in the 2000 and 2004 primary season and election to get a different outcome.  If you’re like me, the answer is “not much.”  I’m here to tell you, though, that you can do quite a bit.  Evaluate the candidates, donate some money, encourage friends and relatives to take this seriously, vote in primaries, walk door-to-door, and vote in the general election.  The world and this country can’t afford another mistake of the magnitude of the Bush Administration!

The Iowa Caucus: Days 1 through 7

Friday, January 4th, 2008

After the fall of traveling in Asia and Australia/New Zealand, we had a three-week interlude in North America.  Elizabeth and the kids spent three weeks in Seattle with my fabulous in-laws Caroline and Jim Goedhart.  I was there for two weeks, but spent my last eight days in North America in Iowa.  I’ve been involved in Barack Obama’s campaign from very early on, and wanted to help in a pivotal state.  This blog will report on the experience of being a foot soldier in the caucus process in Iowa.  I’ll cover the ramp up time in Iowa in this blog, Caucus Day in the next blog, and a third blog on my perspective Barack Obama.

The Obama team had a two-hour training session for volunteers on December 27th.  My first surprise was the age of the volunteers.  Of some sixty volunteers at this session (just for the Iowa City area, and a small portion of Obama’s volunteer force), participants ranged in age from the mid 20′s to the 60′s, with pretty much an equal distribution across all age brackets.  I expected the volunteer force to be much younger, especially since our assignments were physically demanding.

The Obama staff in Iowa was young, but impressive.  The organization had a core of about ten young men and women, all in their 20′s, and all extremely smart and dedicated.  My “boss” was Tony Rediger, who gave me my daily marching orders.  Now, it’s been 20 years since I’ve had a boss, but I couldn’t ask for a better re-introduction into that experience.  Tony was professional, capable, committed to the cause, and always cheeerful and positive.  His colleagues were quite similar.  I never once saw any sign of tension, disagreement, or lack mutual respect in the office, despite the work pace.  And these staffers worked pretty much from 8:30/9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. or later, seven days a week, for three to six months! 

The first surprise I got in the training was a very serious guideline.  All volunteers could never, ever say anything negative about another candidate.  And the staffers meant it.  We could talk to people about what we liked about Barack, about policy initiatives where we had expertise, or why we were volunteering, but it would be a cardinal sin to speak negatively against any other candidate.  They said they had spent months here in Iowa trying to establish a culture of respect for all parties, and didn’t want a volunteer to erode that effort.

Our daily assignments depended on the day of the week.  On weekdays, we’d start with phone calls around 10:00 a.m., and make calls until about 3:30 p.m.  Then, we’d go knocking door to door from about 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  On weekends and New Years Day, we were focused just on door-to-door visits.  The campaign would give us daily contact sheets, with the names and addresses (targeted by a voter prioritization algorithm), but we were free to approach others not on the list.

Iowa 009 I had a specific precinct I focused on (Iowa Precinct 14), but covered other areas.  After a few days, believe it or not, I began to know some of the people I’d see in these neighborhoods.  The neighborhoods ranged from apartment units, to townhouses, to duplexes, to single family homes.  These residences represented a suprisingly full cross-section of life in the Midwest.

Iowa 001 I wasn’t at all sure what kind of place Iowa City would be, but I really enjoyed my time there.  It’s home of the main campus of the University of Iowa, so it’s got a college town feel (even though students were gone for winter break).  I stayed right downtown (see left), and had a great time exploring the city by foot. 

Iowa 051 As soon as I hit the ground in Iowa, I heard almost non-stop ads (more later) for the candidates.  Almost all available radio and television spots were taken by politicians.  And almost all discussions with people I met in Iowa City revolved around the caucus, so there was clear buzz in the air over the January 3rd event.

Iowa 070 I was a little nervous and concerned when I started my first set of phone calls.  I hate getting calls at home, and braced myself for some pretty unfriendly reactions.  But I’d estimate just 5% or so of the people I called were ticked off at getting a call.  Another 5% had a Caller-ID block (smart move), and well over half (say 60%) weren’t home, so I’d just leave a message.  I made about 500 calls during the week, and reached about 30% of the people.  Most were polite, and many asked questions and seemed genuinely interested in my thoughts about Barack.  That surprised me!  An example was a very nice woman named Megge I called who said, “I’m leaning toward John Edwards, but don’t feel I know enough about Barack.  Do you have time to answer some of my questions?”  This woman was smart, thorough, and committed to making an informed choice.  Over the course of the week, we traded several e-mails, and talked again by phone a couple of times.  I never met her in person, but she really gave me faith in the way Iowans go about this process.

Iowa 007 The door-to-door duty was darn hard.  As you can see from the pictures, Iowa City didn’t lack for snow.  The sidewalks and driveways were often icy or not fully shoveled/plowed.  And it was cold.  Quite cold.  Several of the days I was out had air temperatures in the single digits, and wind-chill adjusted temperatures below zero.  Some people would ask me inside, which was a nice relief.  I could only go to 4-5 houses before my hands got too numb to continue, and I’d retreat to my car. 

This process focused onIowa 004  priority addresses, but if I walked by a house where it looked like someone was home, I’d knock.  Again, my stats for door-to-door weren’t terribly different from the phone calls.  About 2/3rds weren’t home, about 5% just wanted me out of there, and the rest seemed genuinely interested in what I wanted to talk to them about.  And these people were not only very nice, but they felt they had an obligation to evaluate all of the candidates.  Many of the people I talked to had gone to hear almost all of the candidates in person, and were quite careful in making up their minds.

Iowa 075 I called on one home where the Mom I talked to (Tina, more in my Caucus Day blog) had a very young boy, named . . . Barack!  As you’ll see, Barack and I got to be real buddies during our caucus!  And, with a son named Barack, I was pretty confident that she’d be an Obama supporter.  At another house, there was a moving van out front, and I ended up talking to the movers (an older man and two younger guys).  We had a fabulous discussion, and they were all going to caucus for Barack.  At the end of our discussion, the head guy gave me an orange, which was one of the nicest presents I’ve ever gotten!

Iowa 076 I would check in at Obama’s Iowa City headquarters many times a day.  It was helpful to them to get my results as frequently as practical I’d indicate which people I’d talk to, how they expected to vote, and what follow-up steps made sense — and they’d enter the data.  The energy in those three rooms was something I’ve never seen in twenty years of backing start-ups.  It almost didn’t matter what time of day I’d dropped by, the rooms were packed with staffers and volunteers — making outbound calls, briefing a volunteer, entering data, or assembling hand-out packages.

Iowa 015 On January 2nd,  Barack came to Iowa City for a rally.  I’ve heard Barack speak several times, so I was tempted to just keep going door to door, but my boss Tony said it was important to be there.  And, boy, am I glad I went.  I knew things were going well when the main convention center room at the Marriot was packed, and late arrivers turned away.  At 1:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, some 1,700 turned out to hear Barack.  And, Barack really has hit his stride on the campaign stump.  I got goosebumps listening to his 45 minute talk, and the crowd just bubbled with energy and excitement.  How he does this rally after rally, day after day, week after week, is beyond me.

Internal to the campaign there’s an oft-cited refrain of “Fired Up!!  Ready to Go!!”  You’ll hear that at times at his rallies from the crowd.  It all stems from a visit he made in the spring to a tiny town in South Carolina.  Barack tells the story about driving three hours to get to this place (Greenwood, a small SC town in the middle of nowhere) to talk to a tiny group of 20.  But one attendee was an older African-American woman who had just come from church.  And as Barack finished his talk (undoubtedly wondering why he had driven so far for such a small crowd), she started chanting, “Fired Up!  . . .   Ready to Go!!”  That’s become the battlefield march for all Obama campaign workers.

Iowa 017 Well, after the rally, I was fired up and ready to go.  It didn’t hurt that after the rally, one of the staff members tracked me down to tell me that Barack would be spending a few minutes saying thanks to the volunteer force, and having some group pictures taken.  I’m met him a few times, but it was a big crowd and he has a million things on his mind, so I hardly expected that he would recognize me.  But as he was walking along, he noticed me, came over, said hello, gave me a hug, and said thanks for all the work.  Boy, was I “FIRED UP AND READY TO GO!!!!!”

On to Day 8.