Volunteers help Obama carry Virginia

At first Marc Broklawski's problem was an easy one. Whenever another volunteer trickled in -- the lawyer from Washington, the small business owner from Annapolis -- he just plugged them into the network of poll workers and door knockers he'd already assembled to help Democrat Barack Obama win votes in the largely Republican exurb of Stafford County.

But at 10 a.m., the volunteers started coming by the van-load. A coordinator in Northern Virginia called to say he was sending 50 people, maybe 75. By noon, the county was awash in transplanted volunteers, and Broklawski was burning through the minutes on his cell phone and the gas in his Honda Pilot trying to keep them all busy.

"I'm being inundated," said Broklawski, chairman of the Democratic Committee in Stafford, about 40 miles south of Washington.

"But you know what, this is what's going to make the difference."

Something made a difference. Obama led Republican Sen. John McCain by 51.3 percent to 47.7 percent in Virginia early this morning with 98 percent of the votes counted. No Democratic presidential candidate had won Virginia since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

And while support from the state's traditional Democratic regions in Richmond and suburban Washington gave Obama the bulk of his tally, Democrats were also crediting an unprecedented vote-by-vote volunteer effort in regions such as Stafford. Four years ago, Democrat John Kerry won 37 percent of the vote there. Yesterday, Obama won about 47 percent.

Obama supporters flooded the largely white county of 72,000 registered voters with as many as 2,000 volunteers yesterday, many of them migrants from safe Obama territories such as Maryland, Delaware and New York.

They staffed each of the county's 24 voting precincts with at least one attorney and teams of greeters and observers. They took down names of voters they recognized, constantly revising a master list of likely Obama supporters who needed to vote.

At the campaign's county headquarters, volunteers printed updated maps showing supporters who hadn't voted yet. Then canvassers grabbed the lists and drove off, knocking on doors to offer reminders, encouragement or maybe a ride. As they left, they brushed past a sign that read: "12 doors knocked = One Obama vote."

From start to finish, the process sometimes required the work of five or six volunteers to get one additional person to cast a vote. And the volunteers considered it a fair deal.

"If I can get just one person to vote, I've multiplied my vote by 100 percent," said Bill White, a 48-year-old Annapolis resident who drove to Stafford to knock on doors after casting his vote in Maryland.

Volunteers considered the 47 percent vote for Obama a momentous success. The Democrats have won two statewide races in recent years - Gov. Tim Kaine in 2005 and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in 2006 - and each won a smaller percentage of Stafford's vote.

"Two thousand volunteers in a county like that is incredible," said Carl W. Tobias, Williams Professor of Law at the University of Richmond. "You can't be certain what to attribute it to, but it looks as though Obama did well in a very tough state."

Democrats also scored an overwhelming victory in Virginia's U.S. Senate race, where former Gov. Mark Warner beat former Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III by nearly 30 percentage points.

Officials at the state Board of Elections reported record-setting turnout throughout Virginia, sometimes marred by two-hour waits and glitches with electronic machines that had trouble reading soggy ballots cast by voters who waited in the rain. At one polling place in Chesapeake, officials reported that 1,000 people were in line yesterday morning, representing half the precinct's registered voters.

At 1 p.m., 66-year-old retiree Herman Jones was waiting patiently in the Stafford County headquarters office, as another volunteer printed out the address of a voter who needed a ride to the poll. With his own car and a GPS device, he'd already driven four people to the polls and was ready for a fifth.

Some didn't have cars. Most didn't know where their polling place was. But all cast a vote.

"I've seen how these elections go sometimes," Jones said. "Five votes might make the difference."

As Jones spoke, Broklawski's phone kept ringing. Volunteers who registered on Obama's national Web site, or through the Democratic advocacy group, were being funneled south.

"I don't even know who these people are, but I'm not turning them away," Broklawski said. "The more votes we get down here, the less we're going to need up in Northern Virginia to win."

Broklawski sent still more volunteers to the polls, just to boost the Democratic presence or encourage voters not to drop out of the long lines. He coordinated runners to ferry paperwork between headquarters and the polling places.

He stopped in at the Holiday Inn, where members of the United Mine Workers of America had boxes of umbrellas to lend to voters. The union members, who had spent all night hanging brochures on the doors of potential Obama supporters, were catching some sleep to prepare for the final rush to election night.

And his phone kept ringing.

"More people?" he asked. "I'm at the point where I have to tell people 'Stop!'

"I've got enough people that I could form an army down here."