Obama draws the volunteers

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By Aletheia Meloncon & Stephanie Holland

By Aletheia Meloncon & Stephanie Holland

Super Tuesday has come and gone and while the Republicans have John McCain (R-Arizona) as their front runner the Democratic Party still cannot determine who will be theirs.

Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama have been in what many have called a tight race that will make history if either one is chosen as president.

Clinton would be the first female president and Obama the first black president of the United States. With so much at stake voters have become a crucial commodity in this primary. So we looked inside the only presidential candidate headquarters located in Riverside.

We spent the day at Obama’s Riverside campaign office on Feb. 5 to find out just how chaotic it gets.

Jonathan Manton, volunteer and organizer, advised us that the office was opened about a month ago when the outpouring of support from local community groups became overwhelming following a rally on Feb. 2 that featured Obama’s National Field Director,Cuauhtemoc Moc “Temo” Figueroa, as the keynote speaker. Cuauhtemoc Moc “Temo” Figueroa,Obama’s National Field Director. Since the rally things have just taken off from there.

“It’s been thrilling the tremendous amount of support from the community,” Manton said.

Though the decor is simple it quickly becomes clear that these volunteers take their tasks seriously and are invested in their chosen candidate. There is no common denominator among the workers. They are young and old, men and women, and come from all ethnicities.This diverse group of supporters appeared energized by the prospect of change. Why does Manton believe in Obama?

A combination of research on Obama and hearing his wife Michelle Obama speak at Cal Poly Pomona convinced Manton that he was the right candidate.

“I saw his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention and was impressed by his way of reaching people. He speaks in a language that young people understand and I feel he speaks to every person, regardless of race, gender and ethnicity, multi-cultural.” Manton said.

In the early hours of Feb. 5, volunteers from the local United Healthcare Workers union called their members to get out and vote. Many of these workers spoke of Obama’s dedication to working families as the reason why they are volunteering their time and cell phone minutes to make these important calls.

Juan Carlos Sanchez, an organizer for United Healthcare workers gave an outline of what they look for in a candidate and that all members were active in endorsing a candidate. They were looking for a candidate that would represent families and release a national healthcare plan.

“Obama is the candidate for working families,” Sanchez said.

“Obama is very intelligent and he talks so that everyone can understand,” Alex Espinoza, another organizer said.

In another corner of the office is a phone bank where campaign volunteers called local residents to ensure that they get out and vote today.

These callers are also fielded calls from people who are having trouble at polling places. Common problems include names not appearing on registers, and voters being given the wrong ballots.

As these issues continue to rise throughout the day, volunteers deftly answer all questions or provide access to those with the answers.

Throughout the day, supporters come by asking for signs and buttons; the staff have not been able to keep these items in stock.

“We can’t keep anything on the shelves,” Manton said.

At one point two young people who were first time voters walked in off the street and ended up working in the phone bank. This kind of support from volunteers could translate into votes.

As the day progressed, results from around the country started coming in and while McCain is building a comfortable lead with republicans, it becomes clear that the democratic race will be extremely tight.

With its 370 delegates up for grabs California is the most coveted state of the day. This news sends the office into overdrive.

The phone bank goes into high gear, making a final push during the final voting hours.

By 6:30 p.m., an hour and a half before polls close, word comes in that undecided voters were not being allowed to vote democratic and were being turned away, so volunteers are sent to local voting precincts to make sure voters know their rights.

One endorser for Obama is Riverside Community College Board of Trustee member, Jose Medina.

As the polls were getting ready to close, Medina could be seen bringing in food and sodas for the volunteers. While he closely watched the flat screen as the winners of the 22 states were being read off, we got some insight on what he thought Obama would bring to the table as president.

“I met Obama in June at the National Association of Latina Elected Officials in Orlando, FL. I was very impressed after meeting and talking with him, because I had heard a lot about him,” Medina said.

Then I saw his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention and read his book. It was a combination of all this that convinced me he would bring about change and leadership”.

Medina will be a delegate at this summer’s Democratic Convention that will be held in Denver, Co.

Accompanying Medina that evening was also RCC instructor, Kristy Woods who also shared with us her reasons for backing Obama.

“The other candidates all seemed to be rehearsed, Obama is the only one that was genuine and has talked about making college more affordable,” Woods said.

Since the opening of the headquarters, many have developed a strong chemistry and work environment that all the volunteers have expressed a desire to remain together, however after Super Tuesday the office will close and the staff would become a different political action group.

By the end of the night it became clear that the results of Super Tuesday brought a deadlock on the two democratic candidates, so for these dedicated campaign volunteers, the hard work is just beginning.

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