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Waynesboro: The Post reports on lack of Obama signs in River City

Column by Chris Graham

And you thought I was just some party hack …

Yes, that was me who was quoted on the Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog today about my complaints to the Barack Obama campaign about their policy regarding yard signs.

“I think they might be missing the boat,” Chris Graham, chairman of the Waynesboro Democratic Committee, said in an interview. “We have so many people coming in, and they just want a sign. … Signs are a big deal for our people.”

Post politics reporter Tim Craig picked up on a post that I had made on an Obama Virginia blog early Friday pleading with the world to get my committee some yard signs so that we could begin to meet the demand in our red part of the Old Dominion and e-mailed me Friday night to confirm that it was me the local committee chair who had posted the item and then get a few thoughts from me on the issue.

I had earlier in the day on Friday – for timeline purposes, after posting to the Virginia Obama blog, before getting the e-mail from Craig and in the midst of an hour or so of pulling my hair out trying to figure out a solution to my problem – spent some quality time on the phone with an Obama campaign staffer who patiently informed me that everything that I had been told to that point about the availability of signs was off-base.

For weeks, our local Obama campaign staffers had been telling us that we could expect to get a shipment of signs from the campaign soon – we never got more specific than soon, but that was enough to keep us barbarian types at the gate, until our party headquarters came under siege from local Obama supporters for whom soon could no longer be soon enough.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve lost at least a couple of headquarters volunteers who simply can’t take having people come in and express their utter frustration over the lack of available yard signs to them, so you can imagine my own frustration upon being told that it has been the Obama campaign’s policy “since before Iowa,” as I was told, that the campaign was going to emphasize person-to-person contacts and neighborhood canvassing and local phone calls over yard signs.

“Yard signs don’t vote,” I was told rather brusquely, to which I replied, “Well, TV commercials don’t vote, either,” a rejoinder that fell on deaf ears. That, for the record, didn’t bother me. I mean, if that’s the campaign’s policy, that’s the campaign’s policy. I wish it had been communicated to us a ways back, because then I could have known to get signs on order early on; as much as the National Obamas don’t like yard signs, the Waynesboro Obamas do, if only to reassure themselves and their fellow-traveler neighbors that Yes, We Can Turn Waynesboro Blue.

That bit of frustration aside, another came up for me after hanging up the phone. It was like the message from the campaign was that people who put signs in their yard are from another planet. “We don’t want people to just put a sign in their yard. We want them to talk to their neighbors, to volunteer. That’s how we’re going to win this election,” I was told by the Obama staffer.

Great, I said, I don’t disagree. I know that those personal contacts are important. But, I said, what about the senior who can’t physically walk a neighborhood to knock on doors, maybe can’t hear well enough to work the phones? What about the young parent who works all day and has to take the kids to practice in the evening? Not everybody has the time to give a couple of hours in the evening to canvass or work a phone bank; wouldn’t it be a great world if we all did? But I can go down to my HQ and get a sign to put in my front yard to do some free advertising, and that takes a few minutes.

Don’t underestimate the value of those signs. That was what I tried to relate. And I’m apparently not alone in that line of thinking. “Signs are incredibly important, because supporters want to show their support and they want to show their neighbors who they are supporting,” said Scott A. Surovell, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, in an interview with Craig for the story on the Post blog. “It can be very frustrating when their neighbors have John McCain signs and they can’t get Obama signs. A lot of people feel like they are fighting this fight street to street, house to house, and when they see McCain signs everywhere, it makes them feel alone.”

This, again, is what they’re saying in Fairfax, which is about as far away from little ol’ Waynesboro as you can get in terms of pace of life. And the folks up there, according to the Post blog, have spent local committee funds on purchasing 18,000 Obama yard signs, at a cost that I have to figure comes in around $25,000 to $30,000 all told. I can imagine how much of a stretch that was for the committee up there, because I know how much of a stretch it has been for us here in Waynesboro to come up with the money to buy 400 yard signs to distribute in the River City.

(When they actually get here, that is. Everything is on back order. Maybe we’ll get them by the inauguration.)

If you can only guess, a committee like ours with maybe if we’re lucky a dozen active volunteers doesn’t have a lot of fundage to go around, but we feel we have no choice because we’re getting no help from the Obama campaign whatsoever.

I take that back. At the end of my phone call with the campaign last week, I achieved what turned out to be a pyrrhic victory when I got the staffer on the other end of the line to agree to give us 30 signs to distribute the next day. In return, I had to promise that my committee would make 500 calls to registered voters in Waynesboro by this Friday.

I refer to the victory as a pyrrhic victory because I’ve had committee members protest to me at my agreeing to this “ransom,” as one member called it, and the call sheets are sitting in my office for Mr. and Mrs. Chairman who have a voter-registration drive to organize and fund-raising pleas to get out the door and Debate Watch Parties to host and GOTV efforts to get off the ground in addition to running a business to get done.

At least now I know very well what Will Rogers meant …

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