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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007 10:20 pm

A push for Obama

Illinoisans travel to Iowa for Barack

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Untitled Document Seeing Marc Miller hover over a stack of papers scribbling energetically, you might think he’s doing his taxes or cramming for a midterm that starts in 10 minutes. Instead, Miller, a volunteer for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, is tallying the number of potential voters he’s talked to and assigning them codes based on their presidential preferences in the Iowa Democratic caucus. As far as Miller’s concerned, that task is almost as important as completing his 1040 for the IRS.
“After seven years of George Bush, the country needs to change,” Miller says. The Iowa caucus, which will be held Jan. 3, is the first major test in next year’s presidential race, and Obama volunteers from next-door Illinois are spending lots of time there now. Polls show Obama a strong second to frontrunner Hillary Clinton in Iowa; analysts say the Illinois senator needs to do well there to have a fighting chance in New Hampshire. Miller and his wife, Debbie, of Springfield, spent this past Saturday in Bettendorf along with 130 other central-Illinois volunteers as part of what the Obama campaign touted as the largest pre-primary canvass in Hawkeye State history. By rapping on the doors of 65,000 voters, Obama for America hoped to reach the same number of people who attended Iowa’s 2004 caucuses, in which U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., bested all opponents, including former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the previous frontrunner, and went on to take the party’s nomination. Volunteers from Springfield, Petersburg, Pekin, Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, and Champaign-Urbana arrived in Iowa around noon Saturday, Nov. 3 — just two months before the caucus and one year before the 2008 general election. Canvassers received a kit containing a map, a list of Democratic voters, blank pledge cards, fliers announcing an upcoming Obama speech, and other literature. The volunteers were asked to “have good conversations at doors about Barack Obama” and to ask voters whether they planned to caucus, whether they had a favorite candidate, and what issues they cared about and to make records of each encounter so the campaign could follow up later.
Iowans apparently take their jobs as caucus-goers seriously. “There’s a lot not to choose from,” says one man with a yellow mustache and a carton of Marlboros in the front seat of his pickup. Another voter, who was blowing fallen leaves from his yard when Debbie and Marc approached him, says he waits until after the first of the year, after the field narrows, to make up his mind. “Right now, everybody’s got a good idea,” he says. Volunteer Olivia Dorothy, also a Springfield resident, says one voter told her he’d support whichever candidate knocked on his door the most: “People appreciate that personal touch,” she says. However, many voters who said they planned to attend the caucus had not formed an opinion about the candidates, didn’t want to be bothered on an exceptional autumn afternoon, or simply chose to keep it to themselves. “I’m undecided,” one gentleman said to the Millers. Marc told his wife: “That’s good. We’ve got hope.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinois.com.
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