Tuesday, January 8, 2008

In nearly all-white state: Black New Hampshire volunteer rallies for Obama

Manchester, N.H. --Until last November, Mary Strassel couldn’t decide whose camp she’d be in for the fast-approaching Democratic party presidential nomination. She liked front-runner Hillary Clinton a lot. She also liked Clinton’s main contender, Barack Obama.

“I think I was flip-flopping,” Strassel said. “I actually went back and forth between Hillary and Obama.”

Back and forth yes, but she said she was more back with Clinton than forth with Obama. For Strassel, a transplanted Black Chicagoan, gender was sort of trumping race as a factor in her decision. The possibility of the first woman president had its appeal. “Obama’s being Black wasn’t my deciding factor, she said.

Then one night, the equivocating ended.

“The defining moment was when I watched him speak,” said Strassel, a mechanical engineer, who admits to not having followed the campaign very closely until then. “I decided not only am I going to vote for him, I’m going to work for him.’”

And volunteer work for Obama is just what the 41-year-old manufacturing engineer has done.

While the downside is marching through the New England cold to knock on scores of doors, there have been benefits. Strassel, along with 8,500 others in the area, attended the Obama rally with Oprah. She said she also got to meet Michelle Obama, the candidate’s wife.

With the Iowa caucuses now over, the nation’s attention turns to Strassel and others in New Hampshire to see how the candidates will do in this New England state. And with that in mind, the Obama campaign is ramping up here.

The night before the Iowa caucuses, Strassel, with her daughter, Marinne, joined 20 or so other Manchester volunteers at the home of Terry and Caroline Wiggins, to map out how they’d make phone calls to potential voters in the 10th and 11th wards for next Tuesday’s election here.

The volunteers are among nearly 1000 that the Obama campaign claims it has working on its behalf in New Hampshire. One said he had come from Miami to volunteer. He said he’d tried to go to Iowa to work for the primary there but that the Obama campaign had so many volunteers that they were turning people away. So, he, like Strassell, was braving the bitter cold New Hampshire winter to get out the vote.

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