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By Anna Lothson
After some 250 local Democrats gathered at FitzGerald's to celebrate President Barack Obama's acceptance speech on Sept. 6, their attention turned the next day to building support for the president in neighboring Iowa. While the president visited battleground Iowa on Friday, supporters back in Oak Park were planning another weekend campaign bus trip to the state.
Obama's pit stop in Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, isn't far from where his Oak Park supporters will focus canvassing efforts Saturday since Cook County is almost certain to fall into Obama's win column.
"There's nothing to do in Illinois," said Jerry Delaney, chairwoman for the Democratic Party of Oak Park. "It's a blue state through and through."
She said campaigning may not be needed locally, but reminding people that other states need help is critical to securing the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency. The effort includes Saturday trips to Iowa, which last from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and volunteer phone banking to Iowa and other swing states.
Oak Park Democrats have a local office and a presence at the Oak Park Farmers Market, but similar to the Oak Park Republicans, the local Dems have to scrape funding together from their own resources since the national Republican and Democratic groups aren't sending money into Cook County.
Strong in numbers, the local Democratic group has the ability to go outside the state for its efforts. The Oak Park Republicans, on the other hand, said they are simply working on reaching out to find where their local supporters are. Because Oak Park is saturated with liberals and progressives, Republicans have a harder time gaining attention and have even experienced vandalism of yard signs.
"I don't understand," Oak Park Township Republican Committeewoman Linda Tibensky told Wednesday Journal during the week of the Republican National Convention. "Why in our neighborhood? We're such a small group. I can't believe anyone would feel threatened by us."
Still, the Republican group said they'll continue to reach out locally to get out the vote until Nov. 6.
Delaney said one Democratic Party organizer referred to Illinois as a "donor state," and that's exactly what Oak Parkers will spend their time doing for the next 60 days.
"We're really not organizing there," Delaney said about the push through Iowa. "We're just canvassing to gather support."
She joined more than 250 people at FitzGerald's Thursday night during the final night of the Democratic National Convention — a spot that Delaney said has been a great gathering place, thanks to the support of owner Bill FitzGerald.
"It was like being at the convention," she said. "People were jumping to their feet and shouting."
Myrna Lovejoy, a phone bank coordinator for the Oak Park Democrats, said the group hosts three phone banks a week and will extend hours if needed as Election Day nears. The group initially had some presence in Ohio but has since directed it focus exclusively to Iowa.
"It's interesting. When we call into Iowa it's not the same [as Oak Park]," she said. "We have a lot of people who will hang up the phone and refuse to talk to us."
Oak Park volunteers also are responsible for learning where Obama, Biden or First Lady Michelle Obama will be visiting and help get out the word on how to get tickets to the events. As for calling, their focus is reaching out to those on the fence.
"We're calling independents," Lovejoy said. "We're not calling Republicans."
The group is also working to make sure people are registered to vote and are educated on the materials needed to do so. With Iowa being home to one of the first caucuses, which kicks off the political season early, encouraging early voting is another item on the list of priorities for local groups.
Bill Williams, the out-of-state coordinator for the Democratic Party of Oak Park, said this weekend they'll be heading to Eldridge, Iowa and will continue their efforts in towns like Dubuque and Clinton.