As Democrats gather after the close of polls in Columbus Ohio, they do so in a mood of cautious optimism. The mood has been lifting perceptibly since the beginning of the weekend, as volunteers from all over the country flooded into the Ohio field offices. To German Village office, which was honoured by a Presidential visit the day before the election, came several people from New York, a painter from Boston, a lady from Texas who’d already been volunteering for months, people from California, Pennsylvania, Washington, Tennessee and of course Britain, to join the many locals in knocking on doors. On my canvassing route on election day I met, at various times, three others from the office also canvassing on criss-cross routes. This was saturation volunteering. Every potential Democrat voter had their door knocked and literature left at least 3 times on election day.
So, nobody is taking anything for granted, but we know, in Columbus at least, that the majority are with us, because we’ve spoken with them several times in recent days. At the President’s eve of election rally in Columbus, Ted Strickland, the Governor of Ohio up until 2011, said that there were two reasons to be happy about living in Ohio. One was that you got to live in Ohio, and the second was that every four years you got to select the President, as no Republican had ever won the White House without winning Ohio.
No pressure, then.
The optimism grows from the first exit polls at 7pm EST, as Joyce Beatty is elected to congress, then Senator Sherrod Brown is re-elected, in spite of the $40 million campaign run against him. The Electoral College count swings backwards and forwards in a nail biting fashion for 4 hours until a sudden rush of calls after 11pm sees Washington, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Iowa and finally Ohio all called for Obama within 25 minutes and the room erupts with joy tempered by relief. There’s a slight hiccup as a rumour emerges that the Republicans will challenge the Ohio result, but this fizzles out as the margin widens. Ted Strickland speaks again. This is a vote for hope not hate and the people of Ohio have proven that their vote is not for sale. By the time the President speaks, we’ve all calmed down a bit; lots of people are now sitting, cross-legged, in front of the huge TV screens, like a Kindergarten class waiting to be told the next chapter of the story (well, most of us have been on our feet for over twenty hours). We’re all very happy with our newly re-elected president’s speech, with its echoes of Kennedy’s “ask not what your country…….”.
The two things I’ll take away from this campaign will be that Obama’s belief that the more people feel connected to you the more likely they are to vote for you is probably true and that therefore one of the most productive strategies for a Labour victory in 2015 is simply for Labour party members to talk to people on their doorsteps for the next two and a half years. Also, his strategy of focussing on the middle classes as the backbone of the country, but insisting that entry to them should be wide open to everyone and backed by adequate government safety nets for life’s exigencies, is demonstrably a winning combination.