On the second floor of a brick building between the Quiznos and a camera shop at Northeast 40th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, a 2-foot-high image of Barack Obama's face is pinned to the wall.
On a windowsill in that same space is a 9-inch Obama action figure. And on the back wall is a poster that reads, "Change, It's Coming."
This is the Portland office of Grassroots Campaign Inc., a company hired by the Democratic National Committee to do door-to-door and street fundraising for Obama "and Democrats everywhere."
I'm here in response to ads all over Portland offering $300 to $500 a week to canvass for Obama, And I'm not alone when I come in at 7 pm on a recent Thursday to interview. There are 10 other candidates. For all the talk of how Obama has rewritten the rules of fundraising on the Internet, I'm hoping to get a taste of what the training is like to raise money face-to-face for Obama, and how well Obama's campaign is doing on the doorstep
During a 10-minute interview, I'm asked questions like: "What is the biggest obstacle to a government 'for the people, by the people' in the United States." I'm told I will get upward of $500 a week if I stick with the job through November. And I get a script to memorize over the weekend called "The DNC Rap," and am told to return on Monday. I'm not asked if I'm an intern at WW, which I am.
On Monday, I arrive just before 2 pm and will spend two hours getting trained before going out with five others to knock on doors.
Laura handles us trainees. She is a post-grad with frizzy blond hair and a blue DNC T-shirt. There are 12 of us—mainly college-age students—and we sit in a big circle as Laura dissects the rap. Each paragraph serves a purpose, she tells us, from the introduction to the "pledge of support" (i.e., the contribution form with a suggested $100 donation). We go around, practicing one person, one paragraph at a time.
"Hi, my name is . I'm with the DNC, and we are working this fall to elect Senator Barack Obama, and Democrats everywhere…."
Once everyone has recited the first paragraph, we move to the second one, which introduces a couple of campaign themes like "change" and the "war in Iraq."
Soon, Laura has us work on the "hand-off," which aims to put the clipboard in a donor's hands at the door. A good hand-off is "firm but awkward." And Laura says we should angle the clipboard down so they won't see the donation forms (see the how-to video below). We practice.
After we finish practicing, I meet Liz, who recently graduated from the University of Oregon. I will be shadowing her in a neighborhood in Lake Oswego that evening.
Driving out to Lake Oswego, I'm told the DNC will try to cover every street in the greater Portland area. Twice. Maybe three times. Liz tells me we should sell the grassroots campaign as a move away from "lobbyists and large corporate donations." Liz says this line counters those who say, "I have already donated online," or "I send in a monthly check."
"You just need to keep them talking," Liz says. "As long as you're in conversation, then you're still doing well."
After a couple of houses with no response, we walk up to a registered Democrat washing his car. He says he loves Obama and donates "a lot" monthly (a common, sugar-coated "no" that we hear all afternoon).
Liz pushes back. "That's terrific, it is wonderful to know that you support our cause," she says. "At the DNC, we push our strongest supporters to set an example and donate as much as they can. Even a small donation today would help us."
They go back and forth, and he ends up fishing out six $1 bills from his pocket. Our first donation.
Of course, Lake Oswego also has Republicans.
"He [Obama] is a socialist," says one Republican, sitting in a silver Saab in his driveway. He tells us he is conservative, but he wants to talk; he wants to know why Liz likes Obama.
She improvises off the rap. He gives her two reasons why she is wrong: "Obama is going to tax the hell out of us. If you look at his politics, he is the most left of any presidential candidate this country has ever seen, and his judicial nominations will skew the courts left for years."
Liz then sends me to work smaller ranch homes. I walk up to a screen door at my first solo house. It is dirty and smells rank. A man comes to the door wearing a T-shirt and tattered jeans, and looking skeptical. I quickly go into my rap.
"You're with the Democrats?" he says. "This is the third time you have been here this month." He tells me he just lost his job and says, "I don't have any fucking money."
This anger is common, although I found it more targeted at the DNC than at Obama.
At the next house, I am on the doorstep when a Prius drives up and five aging self-described liberals topple out. I imagine dollar signs raining from their graying hair. No such luck.
"The DNC?" one of them says. "You all were here just last week."
According to the Federal Election Commission, Obama has raised more than $4 million in Oregon, about $2.5 million from the greater Portland area. Nationally, Obama has raised $339 million overall. I collected $166.