In the history of voter-outreach campaigns, there's never been anything quite like this.
"The Great Schlep" kicked off last weekend as an attempt by young Jewish voters to convince their grandparents in Florida to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama. The movement — spurred on by an Internet video featuring comedian Sarah Silverman — is focused on convincing voters in swing states (especially Florida) to cast ballots for Obama. About 100 young Jews nationwide were expected to head to Florida, with another 100 traveling to other swing states.
Andrew Steinmetz, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, said his grandparents live in what he called "kind of the quintessential Jewish-grandparent development" in Boynton Beach. He said he knew firsthand that they had "definitely been inundated with some disinformation" regarding the Democratic candidate, and he hoped to have a dialogue not only with his bubby and zayda, but with their friends as well.
"I want to tell them that, basically, when you cast a vote for president, you're not really casting a vote for a person. You should really be casting a vote with the mindset that you're voting for your own future, and what is your future going to look like with this person as head of state and with the other person."
Lots of Exposure
Organized by the Jewish Council for Education and Research, a left-leaning political action committee, and its Web site www.jewsvote.org, the schlep has already received some high-profile press, including articles in The New York Times and The Jerusalem Post. The Republican Jewish Coalition has even produced a response video on the Web, featuring Jackie Mason.
The JCER also made waves recently by posting online an eight-minute video in which a number of Israeli generals and security officials appear to support Obama. None of those interviewed has endorsed a candidate, and all have said they did not know they were being interviewed for a political campaign.
JCER co-executive director Mik Moore said the schlep was "a way for regular Jews to get involved in the election in a meaningful way."
"We knew that there was a great deal of anger among Jewish supporters of Obama who were hearing relatives say things about [him] that they knew to be untrue, and realizing that there needed to be some way that they could make a difference," said Moore, citing schleppers' drive to provide information that "counters rumors with reality."
Willing schleppers have been armed with an array of material provided by JCER and JewsVote, including talking points, press pieces and video clips. But Moore said most participants already had the most- important tools — ears to listen, and hearts from which to speak.
"What's really needed is for people to hear what it is that those who are having trouble supporting Obama are hung up on," he said. "For different people, it might be different things … . Once you've identified it, you can speak directly to the concern."
Moore said that l'dor v'dor interaction was key to the whole process, and that the basic idea behind the group's campaign is that "individual Jews need to take responsibility for the voters closest to them — friends and family — and to provide an impetus for them to take action."
While the idea of schlepping is new to this election, Moore said he was involved in a similar effort four years ago: Operation Bubbe, which brought more than 100 Jews to Palm Beach County to mobilize votes for Sen. John Kerry prior to the 2004 election.
As for Steinmetz, he met with about a dozen voters in Florida (flanked by crews from CBS News covering the schlep). Rather than telling people directly how to vote, he used history as a way to link the older generation to the Obama campaign.
"I tried to talk to them about history — about Kennedy, about [Franklin] Roosevelt — presidents that, policywise, would match up to Barack Obama. A lot of these people had no problem voting for John Kennedy. I tried to flesh out some of the similarities, and, hopefully, some of that got through."