Here in California, the Obama campaign is organised and energised. The McCain camp seems to have less momentum, if no less enthusiasm (more on the Republicans later). The most recent statewide poll has 55 per cent of Californians supporting Obama, 33 per cent McCain.

As you might expect, the Sacramento for Obama grassroots campaign headquarters is a hive of activity. Obama posters adorn the walls. T-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons were for sale at the front desk. Long-time volunteer Mark Billingsley told us that more than 1.2 million calls had been made from California to battleground states in the past few days. After seeing the mind-boggling scale and organization of the grassroots Obama campaign, the new aim of one million calls a day seems achievable.

At least 25 people were crowded into the small office; each armed with a call sheet sent direct from the Chicago head office and talking to a voter on a phone. More than 10,000 calls were made in two hours — at no cost to the Obama campaign — when 500 rally attendees were asked to use their own mobiles to phone bank last week, he said. As we were leaving, volunteers began road-testing a new computer system that weeds out wrong numbers, unanswered and busy calls so that volunteers speak to real live person on every phone call.

The Republican campaigns we visited were noticeably more subdued, but that’s hardly surprising in a state where the Democrats have held the majority in the state legislature for years.

Though the pace is less frenetic, the Republican volunteers are no less enthusiastic.

At the campaign office of extreme conservative Republican Dean Andal — the only State Assembly member to vote against expanding the legal definition of r-pe to include situations in which women are unable to resist because they are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs — I spoke to two of the phone-banking volunteers. After having my photo taken with the life-size cardboard cutout of Sarah Palin, I introduced myself to the two women and told them I was from a multi-party delegation from Australia, observing the elections.

“Australia?” said the woman on my left, “I heard they took your guns away. Is that right? Who did that?” she demanded.

I explained the conservative government, with widespread public support, reformed gun laws in the wake of a tragic massacre. From there, the conversation quickly turned to whether I had Jesus in my life (I don’t), Obama’s terrorist links, gay marriage and abortion (or “genocide” as the kindly-looking older woman on right described it). Both spoke fervently about why Obama would make a terrible president, but neither even mentioned McCain until I specifically asked them. I thanked them both and wished them luck. They said they would pray for me. Next stop: battleground state Florida.

Ebony Bennett, media advisor to Greens Leader Bob Brown and unabashed Obama supporter, currently in the United States on a multi-party delegation observing the presidential election.

Peter Fray

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