Around her, the calls were starting.
“I’m a volunteer with President Obama’s grass-roots reelection campaign . . . ” one of Lynd’s people started — then stopped. Paused. “Okay.” Paused. Hung up.
“Take me off your list,” she said, relaying the other side of the conversation.
On Wednesday night, this simple two-hour phone bank captured a fraught, upside-down moment for the president. Less than three weeks from Election Day, Obama the candidate is still struggling to match the polished intensity of Obama the campaign.
Lynd is that intensity personified: a 73-year-old who has overseen 100,000 phone calls, and takes the phone herself to close the deal with wavering voters.
Does the public see that same fire in Obama himself? The answer, Lynd hoped, would be on the other side of the phone.
“I’ll know who got excited” by the debate, Lynd said before the calls began. “Everybody wants to be on a winning team.”
On Wednesday, the game was ramping up. There were 21 Obama campaign activities officially scheduled within five miles of this town outside Fort Lauderdale.
One of them was Lynd’s phone bank, inside the deserted offices of a personal-injury lawyer on Hollywood’s main drag.
“Say it in your own words. But don’t let this sentence go by” unread, Lynd was saying, explaining how to read the official script all her volunteers were given. “This is the sentence: ‘The election here will be extremely close, and you can make the crucial difference.’ ”
Master of the phone bank
The phone bank might be the dullest of all the election-year arts, but few people have done more to master it than Lynd — a retiree with spiked hair and a cigarette-blasted growl for a voice. Lynd grew up in Hartford, Conn., and her accent still resides somewhere north of New York City.
Lynd started volunteering in 2008 after she read Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope.” “All of a sudden, I hear the words spoken that I’d been thinking for years,” she said.
Because of pain from an old broken leg, she couldn’t go door to door. So she applied the skills of her old job — managing group homes for the mentally ill and disabled — to the phone bank. Encourage your people, don’t scold. Keep tight schedules and good records. Respond to anger with calm (even when one angry voter she had called then called her back, claiming to be raising money for the Muslim Brotherhood). And be available to talk personal problems.
Lynd relies on endless follow-up calls and subtle guilt trips to turn passive supporters into Obama volunteers. You can’t canvass? You can phone-bank. You can’t get to the phone bank? You can call from home.
About 35 people come to her phone banks, making at least 2,000 calls in five nights a week. Lynd teaches them her secrets: Don’t just recite the script. Memorize it, and tell it your way. Use your personal story — Lynd talks about her children with health issues and her fears that they wouldn’t get insurance without Obama.