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Monday, October 25, 2010

Griper Blade: Is Russ Feingold Actually Leading? It's All About the Cell Phones

Student with cell phoneMadison Teachers Inc. is in a small, blond brick office building. It's the kind of building you might expect to find in an industrial park and seems out of place in Madison's funky coop-shopping, granola-crunching, Williamson Street neighborhood, where Victorian is the dominant architectural style. It seems odd then that few people I've talked to knew where it was -- you'd think it'd stick out like a sore thumb and, therefore, be memorable. Still, it's easy to find from the handful of campaign yard signs out front and the hand-lettered "Welcome volunteers!" banner on the entrance door.

This is my second shift of volunteer work for the Wisconsin Democratic Party. My first shift was at the Feingold campaign headquarters, located in what used to be a bar just off the Capital Square. I sat in a storefront window and made calls with a well-used campaign cell phone. This time, I sit in a white conference room with campaign literature taped to the walls, in between framed posters celebrating the ethnic diversity of Wisconsin school children. But if the locations of the phone banks are very different, the experience is very much the same.

In both cases, a mostly older crew of volunteers (say, 40 and up, with retirees well-represented) are supervised by very young campaign staffers. There isn't one staffer I wouldn't ask for an ID before serving beer. But experience tells me that the young are better suited to campaign politics; they've still got that learning gene switched on, so they're quick on the uptake and still used to crunching numbers -- and, believe me, they're doing a lot of that. They're figuring contacts per hour, ratio of Republican to Democratic contacts, percentage of people who say they'll definitely vote compared to those who just say "probably," percentage of early voters by district, etc. Trust me, every number is compared to another one and broken down into a percentage or ratio. A big chunk of behind-the-scenes campaign work is analyzing data. These are the front lines and the battle is fought with phones and calculators.

I'm given a seat at a folding table, a list of names with phone numbers, and a cell phone. Then it's dial, dial, dial. There's cookies, soda, and a little chit-chat, but mostly we just dial. The work ethic of a volunteer is a wonder to behold...[CLICK TO READ FULL POST]

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