Searching for crossover votes
Posted Tuesday, November 4 at 12:29 am CT by Kari Huus
Filed under Nashville
Matt Nemeth works the phones in Tennessee Victory Headquarters. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com)
On the evening before the historic 2008 elections, in an unmarked office on a strip populated with check cashing stores and discount liquor stores in the western reaches of the city, three volunteers were still working the phones on behalf of the McCain-Palin ticket and state and local Republicans.
This modest looking three-room operation, dubbed the Tennessee Victory Headquarters, is an odd outpost with a complex political mission. As a coordinating center for Tennessee counties, much of the energy expended here is spent calling outside the Nashville/Davidson County area, and even outside the state on behalf of Republican candidates.
It is not easy to find and persuade local voters who are on the fence. Urban Nashville is staunchly, deeply Democratic. Politics in the city revolve around liberal-leaning universities and churches that were at the core of the civil rights movement. Nashville is a blue island in a scarlet red state that is all but certain to go to McCain for president.
“Most everyone is voting a straight party ticket,” says Matt Nemeth, a volunteer who has a career in sales. He calls from the voter lists here, and when he gets home, he calls more people drawn from lists that are supplied by the McCain-Palin campaign.
“When I get home I desperately search for Obama supporters — either people who are for Obama, or undecided,” he says. ”Then I ask them what their most important issue is.”
Still, the volunteers are working hard at pulling in more votes in greater Nashville, if not in its urban core. That includes pursuing many African American voters, says Mark DeRossett, a student at Austin Peay State University in Clarkesville.
Winning votes from African American voters is definitely tough, admits DeRossett, especially in areas like the northwest neighborhood of Bordeaux. He witnessed the huge turnout for early voting among Obama supporters in that heavily African-American area.
“They don’t realize how they’ll be hurt by (an Obama presidency),” he maintains.
But he’s more optimistic that blacks who live in outlying parts of the city and in areas popular with military families are less apt to vote along racial lines, and veer towards more the more conservative McCain.
But he concedes that polls showing Obama on the verge of becoming the nation’s first black president makes his job wooing African-American voters harder.
“The problem is that people are watching, not listening to what (Obama) is saying,” he says.