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Presidential Campaigns Need Volunteers To Succeed


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

So many people are so cynical about politicians who give us so many reasons to be cynical, that it's easy to overlook the many Americans who believe. They believe in a candidate, believe in an issue, believe in democracy or at least believe they need to fend off the other guy.

MONTAGNE: President Obama and Mitt Romney count on armies of volunteers who've knocked on doors, made phone calls and staffed booths at county fairs and parades. NPR's Don Gonyea has met many in the past year, including two this past week in Ohio.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is the Obama for America field office, just off a freeway in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi, I'm calling from President Obama's campaign. We were seeing if you were able to come in on Tuesday for get out the vote?

GONYEA: Volunteers work the phones and enter data into computers and do, pretty much, whatever needs to be done.

LYNN BUFFINGTON: Ok, well, my name is Lynn Buffington. I live in Beaver Creek, Ohio. What else do you want to know?

GONYEA: What do you do for a living?

BUFFINGTON: I'm a medical biller.

GONYEA: How old are you?

BUFFINGTON: I am 59, soon to be 60.

GONYEA: Buffington is a lifelong Democrat. She first volunteered for a campaign back in 2000 for Al Gore. She recalls that day 12 years ago.

BUFFINGTON: I do, I do, because I was very timid and very unsure, but I just said, you know, it was kind of this feeling of if I don't do it, who is, you know? You've got to act. You know, the old 60s thing, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. But I was just very timid about it.

GONYEA: So now it's 2012. Are you timid?

BUFFINGTON: No, not at all.

GONYEA: Now she's a neighborhood team leader, organizing canvassing and outreach in an area that covers some 15 precincts. She did the same job for the Obama campaign in '08 and never really stopped, keeping in touch with Obama For America organizers and with Obama supporters in her community over the past four years.

BUFFINGTON: I mean, I have two kids and I care very much about the world that they live in. And I absolutely believe that they will live in a better world with Barack Obama as president.

GONYEA: Especially, she says, in Ohio where just a handful more votes per precinct could have given Democrat John Kerry a victory over President Bush in '04.

BUFFINGTON: I use that often when I talk to volunteers. I say you can make a really big difference, because it's just a few votes per precinct that could make the election.

GONYEA: Now to another Columbus suburb and another non-descript office, and a group of volunteers working for Mitt Romney.

AMBER DYER: I'm Amber Dyer. I'm a stay at home mom. I've got two young boys, wonderful husband.

GONYEA: Dyer is 39 years old. She just moved to Ohio from North Carolina this summer. This is her first campaign ever.

DYER: This is all new to me. Going door to door, I make phone calls. But I absolutely love it. I feel like what I'm doing is something the country needs. I mean, I feel like people need to hear what's going on this campaign. They need to hear the voice of Mitt Romney. And if I can do that by making a phone call or two, then I feel like I've done my duty.

GONYEA: She says she was unpacking boxes after her move and saw a TV report that she thought was unfair to Romney and decided she needed to get involved. She says she had butterflies the first time she walked in.

DYER: But I was embraced with open arms and given a phone and given a voice.

Hello? Yes, I'm calling for Frederick. Hi, Frederick, this is Amber Dyer. I'm a volunteer for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party...

GONYEA: Dyer says she's made great friends. One of her fellow volunteers likens the atmosphere to the TV show "Cheers," but without the beer. Dyer says the camaraderie is a powerful thing.

DYER: I am in Columbus, Ohio but I have met people in this office from California. I've met people in this office from Tennessee. I'm sorry, I get emotional. From Texas, from all over this country, that know that this is a battleground state that is so important for us to win and they're volunteering their time and they're taking their time out to be here.

GONYEA: Amber Dyer says should Mitt Romney lose she'd be very disappointed, but adds that life will go on. Both she and Obama volunteer Lynn Buffington believe they are a small but important piece of a winning effort in Ohio. Each predicts that their candidate will carry the state and the presidency today.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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