Front lines in the political Ground War

Front-yard campaigning in Greensboro

This morning I hung out with Congressman Brad Miller (D-NC) and State Representative Pricey Harrison. They were walking a neighborhood getting voters out in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is one of those few states that are in play in the election for President.

I write about it here to tell other bloggers that if you get this chance in the future it’s a lot better way to get to know someone and their views than if you go to Washington DC and get a 15-minute interview.

It also showed me the hard work of campaigning. Pricey won her last race (she’s running unopposed this time) she told me because she hit almost every house in her district and people hadn’t seen her opponent in years because he had such a strongly-Republican district.

As we walked through a quiet neighborhood people stopped in the street to talk with them (the neighbors recognized them from TV ads).

We talked about policies, what Congress will be like next year (his legislative aide was along for the walk too and she said that Congress is backed up and a ton of legislation will get written next year), and the effect of the Internet on campaigns. Of course we talked about the economy and about the bailout bill. He said that was a tough vote (he voted for it) but it wasn’t popular with people calling and emailing his office. Says that sometimes he needs to not listen to his constituency and do what he thinks is the right thing to do. Says that’s a key to our form of representative democracy.

On how technology affects politics, Miller told me that when he started running for office back in the early 1990s that was before the Web. He told me when the Web first came along he derided it as a toy. Said that was a mistake and now uses the Web and other technologies to get the word out (he was watching polling information coming in on blogs like Daily Kos on his Blackberry as we walked around).

We visited a few dozen houses. When people were home they said hi, handed out literature, urged them to get to the polls (which are already open in North Carolina), and answered questions.

This seemed to be the least likely thing a technology blogger like me would be doing on a Saturday morning, but even here you could see the effect of technology. We had maps printed out from a database and Pricey had information on each home. Whether they were Democratic or Republican. Of course a lot of the houses had yard signs for either McCain or Obama, so it was pretty easy to figure out who was a strong supporter already.

The mood among Democrats is confident, but nervous. Piercy and Miller talked with each other about some of their experiences with racism on this campaign cycle. Miller told me he’s encountered lots of independent voters who tell him they are “uneasy” with Barack Obama. He says that if you get to know them they’ll cop to not being sure about voting for a black man. He told me about talking with Union organizers who notice that if they have someone with a noticeably African American voice that they’ll get different results than if someone who sounds white will call.

That talk depresses me, but he noted that North Carolina will probably go to Barack Obama, which is surprising everyone because it is a state that’s been solidly Republican in the past. Greensboro is famous for the student sit-ins during the civil rights struggles. On Thursday, I got a tour of the town and stood in the separate “white” and “colored” waiting room in the train station. Just a little reminder of how far we’ve come in this country in just a generation, but this talk reminded me we still have a ways to go.

Anyway, thanks to Sue Polinsky, the founder of Converge South, who introduced me to the campaign and set this up. I have a new respect for politicians. I sure wouldn’t want to do this.