She's going the extra mile (or so) for Barack Obama

August 24, 2008|By C. Fraser Smith

She's not Obama Girl, but Cheryl A. McLeod may be the essence of the national phenomenon generated by Sen. Barack Obama.

She's got the wardrobe and the record to prove her commitment.

At the end of July, the Ellicott City resident set out by bus for Denver and a weekend training session for Obama convention volunteers. She thinks of the 2,000-mile, 39-hour trip (one way) as her chance to take part in changing the nation's political system, in behalf of a candidate who is the embodiment of that change.

In part because some of the money goes to the Obama campaign, she's collected a trove of buttons and other memorabilia: incense candles with inspirational quotes from the candidate, a windshield sun screen, church fans - all bearing the candidate's name and his invocations of hope and progress.

An African-American, Ms. McLeod is one of an estimated 500 Marylanders headed west this weekend to witness the nomination of Mr. Obama and to prime the faithful for a general election outpouring of effort on his behalf. These men and women far outnumber the state's 99 official voting delegates and alternates.

Ms. McLeod knows she has little persuading to do among this state's representatives. Maryland voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama in the Democratic primary, and its convention contingent is solidly behind her candidate. An organizer for the Maryland State Teachers Association, she says she's been preparing for what she expects to be a difficult fall campaign. She is not surprised that polls suggest a tight race in spite of Sen. John McCain's support for the unpopular war in Iraq, a Republican president with very low approval ratings and a slowing economy.

"Obama's an ethnic minority," Ms. McLeod said. "He's young. And he's asking us to take some responsibility to create change."

She said she is ready for a strident Republican attack on her candidate. The suggestions that he is "arrogant" or "inexperienced," she says, represent some of this society's most unattractive past behavior. "Arrogant" is a code word for "uppity," a suggestion that someone had gotten beyond their "place," she said. In recent elections she says, people voted out of fear. Now they have a world in which Americans are looked upon with suspicion and disdain. Voters are eager to change that perception, she said: "I firmly believe that people will vote for something."

As she heads for the convention, she'll be in uniform, wearing one of her 15 Obama T-shirts. The shirts and the array of buttons she's collected are ice breakers. During her long ride to Denver in July, she waited for opportunities to make her Obama pitch. Rather than "talking at" people, she found herself engaged by workaday Americans at places such as the Waffle House, where she was invited into conversations about health insurance, unemployment and the war.

She said she has become a link in a multigenerational chain of support for her candidate. Her mother, Bette McLeod of Bowie, and her mother's friends depend on her reports, having allowed themselves to believe in something that seemed unimaginable: a black president.

"She always wished it was possible, but she just never thought it was," Ms. McLeod said of her 75-year-old mother.

She doesn't dwell on the possibility of defeat. She's put in a reservation for the inauguration. And she wears a necklace with an Obama "Hope" pendant.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news editor for WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is fsmith@wypr.org.

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