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Thanks from California to that undecided voter in Ohio
And maybe some day, they'll meet and sort the whole thing out
This story is part of a special series.

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In The Region:
In the last minutes of the election, an Obama campaigner in California made a connection with an undecided voter in Ohio. As he explains in this commentary, Andrew Lewis would like to find a way to keep that connection going.

It’s election night and I’m working an Obama phone bank in California.  Forty-five minutes before the polls close in the Midwest, the auto-dialer beeps and on my screen appears the name of a woman in Ohio.

“Hello,” she says.  She sounds tired.

I explain that I'm calling from the Obama campaign and I just wanted to make sure she got out to vote.

“No,” she says.  ‘No, I didn’t.’

An uncomfortable silence follows.

“Is there a reason why?” I ask.

She pauses for a long time.

“I didn't know who to vote for.  I just don’t know enough about the candidates to make a good decision.  So I think it’s better not to go out there.”

I hold my earbuds close to my head and strain to hear above the noise around me.

“You’ve just made my day,” I tell her. “I can’t believe that I’m actually talking to an undecided voter in Ohio.  I didn’t know there were any of you left.”

The woman laughs. Emboldened, I ask if there was something in particular she didn’t like about the president.

“I don’t know,” she says hesitantly. It’s hard to talk about.  She struggles and at last declares, “I don’t like gays.  And I don’t like abortions.”

Those are deeply held beliefs tied to God and religion. Phone bank instructions are to cut bait and go on to the next call.  But I don’t.

Don't hang up
Instead I listen to this woman on this fall evening in Ohio.  I’m surrounded by the buzz and chatter in the campaign office.  Virginia is closing and folks are dialing as fast as they can.

The lady continues. “I do care about people though,” she says. “And I want to help people out.  And it seems Obama wants to do that, too.”

We’re together and yet a huge divide separates us and I have no idea how to bridge it.

“You know,” I finally say. “Given how you feel about those first two issues, I can see how it would be hard for you to support the president.  It’s really hard.”

It is, she says.

“But it’s really good you’re thinking about it,” I say. “And I want to thank you for being so nice.  So many people have been calling you and bugging everyone in Ohio, and you’ve been really gracious and you didn’t have to do that.”

“It’s been really hard,” she says. And then she adds something. “Where’s my polling place?”

I tell her and thank her again for her time.  She thanks me and we hang up.  And I’m onto the next call.

Victory, and questions answered and unanswered
Today, I and all my friends are basking in the Obama victory.  But I also can’t stop thinking about that undecided voter in Ohio.

I don’t recall her name.  But if you hear this, please know that I'm talking to you.

I think it would be neat if one day we could meet and sit together and talk.  I’d like to learn a little bit about who you are and vice versa.

I’d like to thank you again for letting me into your life for just a few minutes, and for being honest, for saying things that are especially hard to say to a stranger.

Why do we believe in different things?  Why are those issues that are so emotional for you perhaps less emotional for me?

We’ve had different lives and been exposed to different things.  But we've grown up in the same country.  And perhaps that can make all the difference.

If we could ever meet, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends who are gay.  They’re decent, wonderful people: TV producers, investment bankers, astronomers, hospice nurses caring for people as they die.  These are people who, without you asking, would watch your back unconditionally.

I’d like to also tell you that I don’t like abortion either.  And truthfully, I don’t think there are a whole lot of women out there who do.  For those I know who’ve had an abortion, it’s been sad and painful and not an easy choice at all.  But they do want, and I believe deserve, the right to choose.

Finally, I wonder if somewhere in the mass of issues that often divide us, perhaps there’s something you and I can agree on.

We both genuinely care, I believe, about the future of this country. 

Luck to both of us as we figure this whole thing out.

Andrew Lewis is a writer and community development professional living  in Sebastopol, California.  

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