Late on a Friday afternoon, Ellen Frost is in Montford, knocking on doors. A woman comes out of one house, and Frost begins telling her about early voting for the May 6 Democratic primary—where to do it, when it ends, and the fact that you can register that same day. They chat briefly, and Frost hands her a packet of campaign materials before moving on down the street.
Frost, who owns the Bed & Biscuit pet salon in Black Mountain, is a volunteer for Sen. Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign. And on this afternoon Frost, her daughter Liz Allen, and fellow volunteer Joan Worth are going door to door, distributing information and trying to drum up support for their candidate.
Reactions from residents have mostly been positive, she reports.
“I found the community really anxious to hear about what we’re doing—I’ve not encountered too much negativity,” she notes before starting her route, laughing as she adds, “No one’s thrown rocks at us yet.”
And indeed, no one does that day either, though the group does encounter both “Hillary for President” and “Obama ‘08” signs. Several of the people they talk with are already planning to vote for Obama; others express no preference but ask for details about early voting. One is a registered Green Party member, and a passer-by walking his dog says he’s still considering whom to vote for.
The Illinois senator, says Frost, first caught her attention with his address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention—a common theme among his supporters.
“I’ve always been involved in local politics, but here was this positivity, this feeling of inclusiveness. His overall message is about lifting people up; it includes empathy. There’s not been anything like that nationally in a long time,” she observes. “I canvassed [for Obama] before in South Carolina, and as soon as they opened up an office here, I started volunteering. I think if you look at what the campaign’s done so far, it’s getting people involved who’ve never been involved.”
Allen, a cardiac nurse, had a similar reaction to Obama’s 2004 speech. “I just sat back on the couch in awe,” she recalls. “I did some research, saw what he’d done in the Senate. A year ago I didn’t think it would be possible for him to be where he’s at now. I think he’s truly, passionately concerned about everyday Americans.”
That feeling carried over when she and her mother met Obama in South Carolina. “He just seemed like one of the guys; he came over and gave us a hug,” says Frost.
“He can just totally motivate and captivate an audience,” adds Allen.
Asked about the candidate’s policy positions, Frost says she’s focused more on “the overall vision, because that’s where policy comes from,” but that Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war impressed her early on. “He was against it when there was a lot of fear in the air.”
Allen, too, says she was swayed by Obama’s stance on the war. “It was not popular at the time, but he thought rationally and stood up.”
Worth, who teaches GED-prep courses and English as a second language at A-B Tech, says she feels Obama offers the best chance for moving to a cleaner and more flourishing economy here in Western North Carolina.
“He’s the only one who sees the need to convert more jobs to ‘green-collar’ jobs,” Worth asserts. “The factory jobs are never going to come back here; we can’t pretend like they are. We can still get jobs—good jobs—for those folks, but it’s going to take that kind of vision.”
The night before, a sellout crowd had packed the Orange Peel for a “Barack the Vote” fundraiser featuring Béla Fleck and Arrested Development.
Obama shirts, buttons and stickers abounded. Longtime community activist Elinor Earle, who works for the Asheville Housing Authority, was sitting with two other self-proclaimed “Obama girls.” “I like his views,” she said simply. “He’s for all the people. It’s about time we had someone like that.”
Asheville resident Jenni Moore sported a straw hat and several buttons as she sat with her family, waiting for the concert to begin. Sipping a glass of white wine, she compared Obama to Clinton.
“In a lot of ways, their policies aren’t all that different,” Moore observed. “I think what you do see with Obama is a willingness to bridge differences, like talking to countries we’ve been dismissing. That attitude’s needed to accomplish those progressive goals.”
As for the upcoming primary, she added: “I’m so excited. North Carolina will make all the difference.”