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A Long, Cold Day for Vital Volunteers

Tom Laughead, a precinct captain for Sen. Clinton, encourages Iowans to caucus for Hillary on Thursday in West Des Moines. Video by Jose Antonio Vargas/The Washington Post

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By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 2008

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa, Jan. 3 -- Thursday was supposed to have been Tom Laughead's day off.

Instead, Laughead worked a nearly 12-hour shift, for no pay, for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Laughead, 49, is one of Clinton's precinct captains here, just a few miles from her Iowa headquarters in Des Moines. Laughead is in charge of Precinct 211, one of 17 precincts in this suburb of more than 50,000.

And it fell to Laughead to help turn out Clinton's caucusgoers to Valley High School, home of Precinct 211.

"I don't exactly fit the Hillary Clinton demographic," said Laughead, a cyclist and a manager at a bicycle shop. "But most of the people who live in my neighborhood do. I live around a lot of elderly women." A precinct captain for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, Laughead threw his lot in with Clinton this time because health care is the issue that concerns him most.

The stump speeches, the town hall meetings, the mailers -- all that ended Wednesday. For the campaigns and their volunteers, Thursday was all about GOTV -- caucus-speak for "get out the vote" -- and the campaigns had multiple strategies at work.

Whoever needed an evening babysitter while caucusing for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) got it. Aides to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) jotted down the name of each supporter in Iowa's 99 counties who needed a ride and provided it through the campaign's "buddy system." New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) called supporters twice to remind them to show up, first with an automated call and then with a live call from an aide or volunteer.

On Thursday, volunteers such as Laughead played a key role.

His day began 9 a.m., bitterly cold but still sunny: "a perfect day for caucusing." Laughead called a few people, including a field organizer in Clinton's office, which provided all the signs, posters and stickers, to make sure he had everything he needed.

Around noon, he left his townhouse and hit the ground, knocking on neighbors' doors, making his last pitch. Keeping warm was paramount, so he dressed in layers. And gloves, of course. "Never forget the gloves," he said.

For the next three hours, clipboard in hand, he knocked on doors, about 100 in all. On the clipboard was a fresh voter list, also provided by the Clinton campaign, of potential and definite supporters. It was an extensive list, with the name, age, gender, address, phone number of each voter -- and each voter is assigned a code. A 2C is a Clinton supporter. A 1C, like Laughead, is a volunteer as well as a supporter.

If no one was home, he left a flier on the doorknob listing the time ("Arrive by 6:30 p.m.") and the place ("Valley High School, 1140 35th Street") of the caucus site. If someone answered, such as Jean Winegar, he made the pitch.

"So who are you caucusing for today?" Laughead asked.

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