Transcript

367:

Ground Game
Transcript

Originally aired 10.24.2008

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/367

Prologue.

Man 1

Thank you, Senator Arlen Specter. Just a great guy. Why are we all here? To support Senator John McCain and Governor Palin. Hello, Pennsylvania.

Ira Glass

John McCain spends a lot of time in Pennsylvania these days. Last week, he hit Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Moon Township, and Bensalem. The week before, he was in Montgomery County, Downingtown and Chester, and Governor Palin was in Lancaster and Scranton. Not many states get this kind of attention. Pennsylvania is the one blue state, the one state that went for John Kerry in 2004, that John McCain is vigorously campaigning in.

In the last few weeks, a lot of people have been asking, why? Barack Obama has held double-digit leads over McCain in nearly every poll in the state. He's heavily outspending McCain on TV ads here, as he is everywhere. He has a bigger field operation in Pennsylvania than McCain's, more offices, more people, and they've been in place for months longer. And finally, thanks to voter registration drives, there are now 1.2 million more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans. That's twice as many as in 2004. And remember, the Democratic presidential ticket won the state in 2004, just as it won in 2000, and 1996, and 1992.

So why is John McCain fighting so hard for this state? Well, part of it is pure electoral college math. He needs Pennsylvania. He needs it badly, because winning Pennsylvania is the only way he'll be able to make up for red states that might go to Obama, states like Colorado or New Mexico. And apparently, McCain sees an opportunity in Pennsylvania. This is the state where Hillary Clinton trounced Barack Obama by nine points. And so, there are tons of working class Democrats who McCain sees as persuadable.

McCain campaign officials have told The New York Times and others that their internal polls show that Obama is just seven or eight points ahead, which seems less daunting when you realize that five or six percent of the voters are still undecided and up for grabs. And in this last week, most of the polls, even the ones you read in the paper, show McCain gaining on Obama in Pennsylvania. And closing that gap is what these rallies are all about.

Congressman Charlie Dent

So at this time, it is my great pleasure and high honor to introduce to you the next president and vice president of the United States, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

After this rousing introduction by Congressman Charlie Dent, everybody leaps to their feet, the houselights go black, spotlights swoop and circle, and then nothing, absolutely nothing, no McCain, no Palin. After six minutes on our feet, some people start to sit down. A couple minutes later, "Eye of the Tiger" comes on the PA and everybody jumps to their feet again, but nope, false alarm, no candidates still.

Finally, 43 minutes later, the Straight Talk Express bus pulls right on to the floor of the arena. Governor Palin and Senator McCain take the stage.

Senator John Mccain

And it's got to happen right here in the state of Pennsylvania, my friends. I'd like to give you a little straight talk. Pennsylvania will have a great role in determining the next president of the United States and vice president of the United States. I need your vote. We need to carry Pennsylvania. We need you.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

For the last month, our radio staff has been in Pennsylvania to try to understand what is happening on the ground in this election. We chose Pennsylvania because it's one of the true battlegrounds this year. We chose Pennsylvania because it's a microcosm of the country, with a couple big cities and sprawling rural areas and small towns and suburbs.

We wanted to see firsthand what arguments were affecting undecided voters, and making decided voters change their minds. And all this hour we will be deep inside the field operations in both camps, McCain's and Obama's.

And so, as we head into this last week before Election Day, we bring you the ground war in this crucial swing state. We're going to be hopping around the state throughout this hour. And so, before we start, a quick Pennsylvania electoral primer.

It's pretty simple really. There are two big cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, one is on the right side of the map of Pennsylvania, the other's on the left side of the map. Those are the Democratic strongholds. The reliable Republican territory is the vast area between those cities, which is farmland and small towns.

James Carville once famously described the state as Philly and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. So, what's up for grabs? Well, a lot maybe.

Act One. Scranton.

Machine Voice

Incoming call. Incoming call.

Woman 1

Democrats for McCain, can I help you?

Ira Glass

Now, officially, this is a citizen's for McCain office, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the northeast part of the state. But the office is run by Democrats, and the name that they have given on the phone speaks for itself. Democrats are the key to McCain's strategy in Pennsylvania, his campaign told us. This is the Hillary vote, which, as I said, was huge in this state.

And McCain's campaign is unabashed about the pursuit of it, both in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Check out this ad.

Woman 2

I'm a proud Hillary Clinton Democrat. She had the experience and judgment to be president. Now, in a first for me, I'm supporting a Republican, John McCain. I respect his maverick and independent streak, and now he's the one with the experience and judgment. A lot of democrats will vote McCain. It's OK, really.

Senator John Mccain

I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

Ira Glass

One of the producers of our show, Nancy Updike, spent some time in Scranton at the Democrats for McCain office.

Nancy Updike

When I told an Obama supporter that I was doing a story about Democrats for John McCain and that I was on my way to interview one of them, she said, oh, so you're going to interview an ass [BLEEP]. Other names she could have used, according to the McCain Democrats I talked to, based on their previous experiences: whack job; dumb, racist KKK bitch; and a word I can't say on the radio that begins with the letter "C."

Woman 3

Country first.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

Woman 3

Country first. Country first.

Nancy Updike

These are former Hillary Clinton supporters, about 40 of them, who've ridden two-plus hours in cars and a bus from New York on a Saturday to canvass in Scranton for John McCain. They overwhelm the tiny Democrats for McCain office, and fill it up with the squeals of long-lost friends reunited, and the enthusiasm that comes from working very hard for something you believe in with all your heart, for no money.

This type of commitment is not to be trifled with. After a long, tough primary, the people in this room are tenacious, experienced, organized, and very, very mad. They're also impossible to dismiss as racist KKK bitches. A lot of them are not white, including the two I ended up following as they were canvassing.

[KNOCKING ON DOOR]

Chris

It's so they can hear. Hey, you know what, they will answer the door that way.

Nancy Updike

The one giving the good, long knock is Chris, a tall, courtly, 28-year-old African American policy analyst with a graduate degree in economics. The shorter one next to him, giving Chris a look like, why are you knocking so much, is his friend Jessie, a 35-year-old African American software tester who's taking a week off from work to campaign for John McCain. They met on the Hillary campaign trail.

Chris

It's always this kind of a sense of like, oh, I'm the black man lurking and knocking on people's doors, will they call the police? And there always this kind of thing, like on somebody's face that's kind of like--

Jessie

I'm lighter--

Chris

Who is--

Jessie

--and smaller

Chris

--this person at our door, especially once it starts getting dark in the winter when we're doing the primaries.

Jessie

Hi, how are you?

Hello, how are you doing?

Jessie

We are volunteers for Democrats for John McCain. I'm here wondering if John McCain can count on your support this November.

Paul

No, unfortunately you can't.

Jessie

No?

Paul

OK, no. I'm having a difficult time trying to vote for anybody, but it won't be him.

Jessie

Why not, if I may ask?

Paul

He just reminds too much of Bush.

Jessie

Really?

Paul

Yeah, he even sounds like him.

Jessie

You know, I'll tell you--

Paul

I'm trying to be real with you.

Jessie

No, I hear you. No, I appreciate that.

Nancy Updike

Scranton is overwhelmingly Democratic, and Chris and Jessie have been given a list of registered Democrats and Independents, so it wasn't surprising that they were encountering some McCain resistance. What was surprising was how ripe for conversion most of the supposed Obama supporters were. Take this guy, Paul [? Volpe ?]. It took Chris and Jessie about one minute to start wearing him down, and the more they talked about McCain, the more skeptical of Obama he seemed.

Jessie

I tell you that his record of bipartisanship is that he is more likely to vote with Democrats than he is to vote with Republicans. 55% of his legislation was passed with Democrats.

Paul

Really?

Jessie

Yeah. He opposed Bush on how he managed the war. He opposed him on his tax cuts.

Chris

Our thing is we're Democrats, and, you know--

Jessie

From New York.

Chris

Yeah, from New York, and we have a lot of kind of Democratic core beliefs. But I feel more comfortable knowing that John McCain, who's had years of service to this country, will be the commander in chief. And if you look back over John McCain's career, I mean, he's not afraid to get in there and be the bad guy if it means getting problems solved for people.

Paul

I just wanted something different. That's why I was going for the other guy. You know what I mean? I just want something--

Chris

To change right?

Paul

Yeah.

Chris

Well, you know, John McCain is--

Nancy Updike

From I just wanted something different, [? Volpe ?] went on to say about Obama:

Paul

Yeah, I mean, he's a real good talker, but--

Jessie

Been a lot of talk. A lot of talk.

Paul

I don't know what kind of a doer he is.

Nancy Updike

And from that, he went to this.

Paul

And I really don't know where Obama even came from either. You know, he popped out of-- I've never heard of him before this.

Jessie

Who is this guy? That's what I'm always saying. I'll stop.

Paul

He's just the only one that's impressing me on TV. And you know what, you're right. It's not really a reason to vote for him.

Chris

Can't give the guy the keys to your country because he looks great on TV, you know? Because then you give, you know--

Nancy Updike

When we left, [? Volpe ?] was still uncommitted and leaning toward Obama. But if I was a pollster, I wouldn't put him in the Obama column. He'd been a Hillary supporter just like Chris and Jessie, and for him, Obama seemed like an uncomfortable bench he'd only sat down on out of exhaustion. That's what made Chris and Jessie so persuasive. They'd left the bench, and they seemed to be thriving.

Canvassing is usually a big time investment for a small return. In studies, canvassers had to talk to an average of 14 people to get one extra vote. But Chris and Jessie seemed to be doing a lot better than that. I watched them make inroads with one wavering Democrat after another. A whole family sitting on their porch:

Jessie

Can we ask if you're supporting John McCain for president this year?

Man 2

Actually, still undecided.

Jessie

Oh, really?

Man 2

Yeah.

Jessie

Well, hi.

[LAUGHTER]

Nancy Updike

A young woman voting in her first presidential election, a woman with three sons who's worried about the economy and the Iraq War and Sarah Palin. Everyone was charmed and, frankly, mesmerized by Chris and Jessie. And finally, the woman with three sons said to Chris straight out:

Woman 4

I'm a little surprised. I'm surprised that you're backing McCain and Palin. You wouldn't want to see Barack Obama be the first--

Chris

African American--

Woman 4

--African American president.

Chris

Well, I would love to see an African American president in the White House in my lifetime. I really do. But more important than my personal desire to see an African American president is my love for this country. So I think, what does this country need most, for me to get to see an African American president in my lifetime or for somebody who has experience? Barack Obama says a lot, but what has he done? If you look at his record, you can't really--

Nancy Updike

Chris and Jessie went to 16 houses in this neighborhood in Democratic Scranton, PA, and only one was a definite Obama vote. Four were firm McCain supporters, and this was without hearing Chris and Jessie's spiel. And of the four undecided houses, Chris and Jessie flipped one to McCain and made serious headway with the other three.

For these undecided Democrats, it was like they were wearing handcuffs, and Chris and Jessie were walking around with the keys, unlocking them. Suddenly, former Hillary Clinton supporters could consider voting for a Republican and against a black man and not feel racist, or dumb, or crazy.

At the end of that day, I thought, John McCain really could win Pennsylvania. For anyone wondering why he's still pouring money into the state, this is it. Ambivalent Democrats live all over Pennsylvania, and with their votes, he could do it.

Nancy Updike

Were you surprised at how open people who said, yeah, I'm a lifelong Democrat, how open they were to the idea of voting for John McCain, and even getting very interested in the idea of voting for John McCain, from what I saw?

Chris

I'm not surprised. I mean, I think that what you were seeing are a lot of people who didn't feel a strong connection to believing that Barack Obama saw them, not just looked at them, but got it, saw them.

Nancy Updike

The bottom line for Chris is this, he thinks Obama is little more than a marketing campaign, not a man of demonstrated principal or grit. And compared to all that, so what that he's a Democrat?

Act Two. State College.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike. We'll return to her in Scranton later in the program. Now, while the McCain campaign is hoping to pick up votes in territory that is normally strongly Democratic, the Obama campaign is fighting to pick up extra votes in that vast territory in the center of Pennsylvania that has always been strongly Republican.

You've probably heard about the massive voter registration drives that Obama has run around the country. In Pennsylvania, a big part of that push was for young voters on college campuses, especially right in the heart of red Pennsylvania, a town called State College, smack dab in the middle of the state, where one of the biggest schools in the country is, Penn State, with 44,000 students.

The John Kerry campaign had only one paid staffer in State College back in 2004, and they lost this county. Obama has seven paid staff and tons of volunteers trying to register and get out the student vote. One of our producers, Sarah Koenig, went to see how they were doing.

Sarah Koenig

It's September 24, 13 more days until the October 6 deadline to register voters in Pennsylvania. The registration goal for campus is to sign up roughly half the student body, 21,000 students. It's a number the campaign wouldn't allow anyone to discuss with me on the record, but it's also a number that every single person involved with voter registration on campus was talking about.

On the wall of the Obama office in downtown State College, there's a drawing of a giant thermometer climbing to the ceiling, with the number 21,000 at the very top. Every day, they fill in their new registrations in red marker. As of this day, they're at about 12,000, a little more than halfway there with less than two weeks to go.

Besides the Obama campaign, there are a bunch of other groups trying to register voters, all with their own goals.

Man 3

Hey, you guys want to hear a really cool rhyme? All you have to do is register to vote.

Woman 5

Hi, sir, are you registered to vote?

Man 4

Uh-huh.

Woman 5

Have a good day. Don't forget to vote.

Man 3

It's less than three weeks, the deadline, and then we won't be fine. We're running out of time.

Man 5

Everybody registered to vote? You registered to vote?

Woman 6

Yes.

Man 5

Awesome. Thank you.

Woman 7

Every single one of you are registered to vote at your current Penn State address? I don't believe you.

Sarah Koenig

They began in the summer. And when classes first started in late August, there was a rash of registrations, but it's slowed since then. And now, people are starting to get a little antsy and sick.

[GIRL COUGHING]

A girl collecting registrations for MoveOn is looking miserable with a cold. The guy running a student group called PSUvote is cranky from a stomach bug. I meet Jonathan [? Burkhart ?] at a diner, a place he goes about once a week for breakfast. This is one luxury during campaigns. Jonathan was sent here by the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, with the singular task of registering 2,500 people by himself. He's getting sick, too.

Jonathan

When I get really tired my eyes start to puff up, and I have like a tear duct, a minor tear duct infection.

Sarah Koenig

By the time the registration deadline came, that minor infection turned into a major infection, the worst eye infection, in fact, that I or Jonathan's doctor had ever seen. He ended up needing surgery. But right now, taking a break is out of the question. He's still less than halfway to his goal. He's got what you might call the Schindler's List syndrome.

Jonathan

I mean there's an infinite amount of work that I can be doing all the time. You can never overdo it.

Sarah Koenig

Right, you could look around at all of these people and just start asking them, are you registered, are you registered, are you registered?

Jonathan

Exactly. I mean, it's sort of-- OK, so you registered half the student body, why didn't you register all the student body? You registered all the student body, why didn't you convince every single one of them to vote for your candidate? You convince every single one of them to vote for your candidate, why weren't you in other areas where you could have been convincing other people? Like, it just keeps on going.

Sarah Koenig

Jonathan's worked in field politics for five years. He's 30, which gives him near-geezer status in the registration crowd. The guy in the Obama office who's running the 10-county region for the campaign is just 23. And mostly, other people doing registrations are in their teens or 20s. You have to be young to do this job.

Jonathan's the guy people come to for advice. He knows all about data analysis and attacks his goal of 2,500 as scientifically as possible. He keeps a tally of every registration he gets, sorted by day, time, sex of registrant. He notes the weather, the football games. This way, he knows, or thinks he knows, the preeminent registration times, which, so far, are 1:00 to 3:00 on Tuesdays. He's figured out that a beat-up sign gets better results than a fancy one. And he's done experiments with his pitch.

Jonathan

The thing is, is I was doing the pitch for a few weeks, and I was switching off days that I did the pitch and then days that I didn't do the pitch. And it was unfortunate from my sort of organizer's instincts that I was getting fewer registrations on the days that I did the pitch.

Sarah Koenig

You've thought a lot about this.

Jonathan

This is all I do.

Sarah Koenig

The built-in pisser of this whole endeavor is that, as each group tries frantically to reach its goal number, the pool of non-registered students is always shrinking. It's harder and harder to find someone who isn't already registered.

Casey Miller

Hey guys, how's it going? Are you all registered to vote at your current Penn State addresses?

Man 6

I'm registered to vote at home.

Casey Miller

OK, let's register you here.

Sarah Koenig

Enter the master, Casey Miller. She's 22, a fifth-year, cigarette-smoking, hard-drinking senior, originally from Pittsburgh. She's in A Xi D, a sorority, and has a tattoo of a blue lion's paw on her left foot, the logo of the university's football team. On her MySpace page she lists the following interest: cars, Steelers-- the football team-- parties, late-night Cinemax, bottles of mousse, very large beer bongs.

Casey Miller

What's your last name?

Keith

Well, I was planning on sending in my--

Casey Miller

Don't send in an absentee ballot.

Keith

Why not?

Casey Miller

Well, I'll just get right to the bottom line. Improper completion of the absentee ballot or related material, improper delivery of the absentee ballot to the county board of elections, can result in your absentee ballot being challenged and set aside by a county board of elections or a court of law. Basically, that means it's going to get thrown out if you leave like one box unchecked or anything slightly wrong--

Sarah Koenig

A situation like this, where someone says he's going to vote absentee, this is where many volunteers fail to persuade or just give up. But Casey goes on for a full 40 seconds. He's still not convinced.

Keith

What if the issues at home matter more to me than the issues here?

Casey Miller

Well, are you going to move back home after you graduate?

Keith

You're very forceful when it comes to registering people to vote.

Casey Miller

Yes, I am.

Keith

Has anybody just straight-up turned you down?

Casey Miller

Yes. And every time it's heartbreaking.

Sarah Koenig

At this point, the full-on flirting kicks in. Casey presses Obama stickers onto the boys' chests, uses their full names with ironic formality. Steven, what's your political party? Gregory, is that a 16803 zip code?

Casey Miller

See, I'm going to ask you for you phone number, Keith. And I'm going to print that very clearly. So if there's anything wrong with your form, we will call you and make sure that your registration goes through and that you can vote in this election. What is you phone number, Keith?

Sarah Koenig

Here's what you can't appreciate about Casey on the radio. She looks like a small, brunette Brigitte Bardot. Long, wavy hair swept up with a clip, thick black eyeliner painted on '60s style, huge perfect smile, knockout figure. This, in no small part, is why her registration numbers are consistently higher than anyone else's. Boys will listen to anything she has to say for however long she chooses to say it. Girls too, actually.

Keith

But I'm just concerned that, like, I might be tempted to vote twice.

Casey Miller

Keith, you're just going to have to avoid temptation.

Sarah Koenig

There's a good chance, statistically speaking, that Keith won't vote at all. Students have a terrible track record of actually making it to the polls once they've signed up. That's just one reason this whole registration drive is something of a gamble for the Obama campaign. Even the gurus of get out the vote campaigning, two Yale political scientists named Alan Gerber and Donald Green, can't say for sure how effective registration drives are at increasing voter turnout.

With a new voter, first you have to sign them up to vote, then you have to convince them to vote for your candidate, and then you have to make sure they get to the polls. The experts simply don't know if, dollar for dollar, it's worth all the time and money. Limited resources in any campaign.

[FOOTBALL CHEER]

Man 7

We are!

Football Fans

Penn State!

Man 7

Thank you!

Football Fans

You're welcome!

Sarah Koenig

Nine days before the deadline, there's still about 8,000 registrations to go. We're at a vast tailgate party outside Beaver Stadium before a football game. It's the largest stadium in North America. There are easily 100,000 people here, a crowd I'd characterize, overall, as drunk. Penn State is playing Illinois.

Man 7

Barack Obama's from Illinois, and we're going to kill Illinois!

Man 8

Fuck Illinois.

Sarah Koenig

We're going to kill Illinois. That's what they're screaming. Casey, though, is unphased, fearless in fact. And this is what makes Casey so valuable to the campaign. She fits in where other volunteers don't. Two nights running, she surreptitiously registered people in the women's bathroom of a nightclub. She registers people at frat houses, wanders uninvited into apartment parties.

Casey Miller

Just like the football games overall have been very unsuccessful for registering students. And I think it's because they stand on the corners and try to stop people, instead of approaching them at tailgates like I was just doing. And I think that that's a lot more efficient. Especially, I registered like 19 people in the line for the porta-potties at the last game. Like, do you see this line?

Sarah Koenig

The Obama campaign has set up a tailgate here and invited former NFL players to come sign autographs and register people. Casey's job today, besides registering people herself, is to send fans to the tailgate. She goes up to a group of friends having a party under a tent and does her pitch.

Casey Miller

We have Franco Harris, Kenny Jackson, Matt Rice, and Blair Thomas.

Woman 8

Are those, like--

Casey Miller

They're former Penn State players who have played for the NFL.

Woman 8

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]?

Casey Miller

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

One of the girls gestures at a cooler, offers an alternative.

Woman 8

I have Captain Morgan. I have Carlo Rossi.

Sarah Koenig

No one she tells is nearly as excited about these players as Casey is. Franco Harris is her hero. She knows all about his 1972 Hall of Fame play for the Steelers, called The Immaculate Reception. She can't wait to meet him. It's tough going here. It's really loud and a lot of people, when they're not hitting on Casey, are just obnoxious. Still, she gets some registrations.

I stopped to talk to a voter for a few minutes, and when I find Casey again, she's somehow rounded up eight more. Then we hit the porta-potty line, which is good for another half dozen. After that, Casey ventured into the middle of a huge crowd of mostly men, who were circled around two shirtless guys covered in white body paint and wrestling.

Football Fans

Hug it out. Hug it out. Hug it out. Hug it out. Hug it out.

[CHEERING]

Casey Miller

Listen. Guys, stop. Everyone, listen. We have--

Man 9

Boo!

Casey Miller

--NFL-- We have NFL players--

Man 9

Boo!

Casey Miller

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] over at our tailgate.

Man 10

Hey, what's it for?

Casey Miller

It's the Students for Barack Obama tailgate. We have Franco Harris, Immaculate Reception, a lot of other NFL players.

Man 10

Hey, hey, did you see this thing yet?

Man 11

What the fuck is this?

Man 10

It's hilarious.

Sarah Koenig

A guy shows Casey the screen of his cellphone, which plays a little video of Barack Obama's face, which then turns into a monkey's face.

Casey Miller

We need to get out of here.

Man 12

That's what we think of him here.

Sarah Koenig

That's what we think of Obama around here, they tell her. Get the [BLEEP] out of here. We hurry away, but Casey doesn't miss a beat, on to the next group.

Casey Miller

Hey, guys, are you all registered to vote at your current addresses? Awesome. You guys should swing by our tailgate. We're Students for Barack Obama.

Sarah Koenig

Can I just talk to you for a second about what just happened back there, that incredibly racist thing he had on his phone.

Casey Miller

Yes.

Sarah Koenig

Does that happen to you? Do you come across that?

Casey Miller

I haven't seen anything of that magnitude before. That is very upsetting. I immediately-- I have to, for me to stay as active and positive and with the same kind of attitude that I've been having, I need to block that out for now, or else it'll just be too discouraging.

Sarah Koenig

We rush back to the Obama tailgate so Casey can meet the NFL stars, but we're too late. They've all left.

Sarah Koenig

Wait, the guy who's your idol is--

Casey Miller

Franco Harris, yeah. Immaculate Reception, 1972, against the Raiders. But it's all right.

Sarah Koenig

But there was--

Woman 9

Oh, Casey.

Sarah Koenig

You are really upset. I'm going to--

Casey turns away. She's sad about Franco Harris, but my guess is that's not why she's crying. She's kind of jangled right now. Registration is all she thinks about or cares about. She's devoting most of her time to more or less begging other people to care about it too. And mostly, they don't.

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig. We will hop back over to her, and to the students, as they try to make their goal in State College, in a little bit.

Act Three. Union Halls.

Ira Glass

There's this speech that's been making the rounds for the last month on YouTube and the political blogs and the news. It's by the secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka. He's been traveling the country making this speech to unions. In it, he recounts a conversation that he had with a woman right here in Pennsylvania, in his hometown, a Democrat who said she couldn't bring herself to vote for Barack Obama.

The woman tells Trumka that the reason that she can't is that he's a Muslim. Trumka tells her that's not true. She then says that it's because he won't wear a flag pin. Trumka points out that he isn't wearing a flag pin, neither is she. Finally, the woman says she feels like she just can't trust Barack Obama.

Richard Trumka

And I said, why is that? And she drops her voice a bit, and she says, because he's black. And I said, look around this town. There's no jobs here. Our kids are moving away because there's no future here. And here's a man, Barack Obama, who's going to fight for people like us, and you want to tell me that you won't vote for him because of the color of his skin? Are you out of your ever-lovin' mind, lady?

See, brothers and sisters--

[APPLAUSE]

--we can't tap dance around the fact that there's a lot of folks out there just like that woman. And a lot of them are good union people. They just can't get past the idea that there's something wrong with voting for a black man. Well those of us who know better can't afford to sit silently, or look the other way while it's happening.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

As he travels around the country making this speech to union members, Richard Trumka tells the audience, you have a responsibility to stand up about race. You have to deal with it directly. Other union leaders are saying the same thing, which is an incredible assignment to give to people. This is a subject that most people have trouble confronting and talking about honestly.

There are a lot of union members in Pennsylvania. A third of all voters in 2004 came from union households, according to CNN exit polls. And we wondered if these union members were taking up the charge, talking about race. And we wondered how they did it. One of our producers, Lisa Pollak, spent the last month traveling around the state to find out.

Lisa Pollak

In early September, I went to a phone bank in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. And I wasn't there long, maybe 15 minutes, before I saw someone right in front of me confront the same sort of racism that Richard Trumka talked about in his speech.

Helen

Hi, is this Ronnie? Hi, I'm Helen. I'm calling from the union.

Lisa Pollak

We were in a conference room at a local union headquarters. There was a big whiteboard on the wall where someone had written, smile while you're on the phone, and, be polite, even when they're not polite to you. Helen, smiling, asked the man if he'd chosen a candidate. John McCain, he said.

Helen

And can I ask why? You think he's a Muslim. You're not ready for a black man. Well, he's half white.

Lisa Pollak

This was not the conversation I'd imagined when I first heard Richard Trumka give that stirring address on the need to stand up to prejudice. And I don't mean Helen backed down, because she didn't. In fact, what she did next is exactly what union organizers have told me a person in her situation should do. She didn't call the man a racist. She changed the subject from race to the issues, and started trying to persuade the man that voting for Barack Obama was simply in his best interest.

Helen

McCain is not union-friendly. He voted for NAFTA and CAFTA. He sides with big oil over working families, wants to privatize social security. Well, you know what, she is-- she was. She was great on our issues, and I have to tell you that, if you check out, Barack Obama's very similar, and now that she's supporting him. And especially if you're a union worker-- and Barack Obama is not a Muslim. He's a Christian.

Lisa Pollak

When you actually hear one of these conversations, you realize they're not always particularly eloquent or uplifting. They can be awkward and frustrating, and even a little wonky. In the end, after seven minutes on the phone with Helen, the guy who wasn't, quote, "ready to vote for a black man," had moved from John McCain to undecided.

Helen

I'll put you down for undecided, sir. Nice talking with you.

Lisa Pollak

And even that much progress took a lot of effort, not to mention patience and confidence, and a degree of nerve not everyone has. I can't do it, one woman, a shop steward, told me, right after she heard Trumka's speech at a training. I'd be intimidated if they said they couldn't vote for someone who's black. And I've seen even the most fearless talkers hit a wall when race comes up.

At the same union hall in Johnstown where I met Helen, I listened to a group of guys from the Laborers Union Local 910 work a phone bank for Obama. Incidentally, if you're one of those people who still thinks the phrase, white male union member from Pennsylvania, is a euphemism for, won't vote for the black guy, you clearly haven't been to a union phone bank lately. I listened to one of them, Barry, single-handedly convert one undecided union voter after another to his side.

Barry

Well, what's the problem with Obama? Uh-huh. That tough times are scary. So why would you want to put the same thing back in there? I would think-- My bottom line is, you know, do you want four more years of Bush in there? And that's more or less what you're going to get with McCain in there, I think. Yeah.

Lisa Pollak

Put me down for Obama, the guy said. But a little later, Barry had a conversation that didn't end so well.

Barry

I called a member, and I asked him who he was going to vote for. And he said, not Obama. And I said, why is that? And he said, I'm prejudiced. And how do I argue with that? You know?

Lisa Pollak

What'd you say?

Barry

I didn't say anything. I said, OK, thank you. I don't think you're going to talk him out of it. I don't think I would. If I don't know them, I don't think they're going to listen to me.

Ray

They won't listen to you, not at all.

Lisa Pollak

Ray, another guy working the phones, chimes in.

Ray

They're not afraid to tell you that, so they're not going to change. Just like an old woman with abortion issues, she's not going to change. A gun nut's the same way. He ain't going to change. Those are three issues right now you aren't going to change people.

Lisa Pollak

So, this idea that, OK, members have to be taking on the race issue with members, unrealistic?

Ray

I mean, you could try, but you're not going to get them. They're not going to turn over because you say, hey, this is the way to vote. They're going to say, hey, this is what I feel in my heart and this is what I'm sticking with.

Lisa Pollak

I have no idea how many people have been in Ray or Barry or Helen's shoes, confronted by somebody bold enough to admit, with little or no coaxing, that the problem with Obama is his race. I've talked to people who say they've never had this happen, and people who say they've heard it a lot.

A union organizer who's traveled the state told me that one in 10 voters he talked to said something to his face about Obama's skin color, only they don't always put it in such civilized terms. Mike Harms, a bus operator with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 in Pittsburgh, saw this firsthand while canvassing recently.

Mike Harms

I had a guy, he actually came right out and told me, I ain't voting for no effin' N-word. To tell you the truth, the way he said it, I mean, my jaw actually dropped a little bit. So yeah, the first thing I countered with was, well, you see what's going on with the economy, if George Bush and/or John McCain had their way, they'd privatize social security, and where would you be now? And then we hit on a couple pension issues and some health care stuff.

Lisa Pollak

And he listened?

Mike Harms

Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely. He actually invited me into his home.

Lisa Pollak

Really?

Mike Harms

Yeah, yeah. So, after about 15 or 20 minutes of talking issues with him, he sort of came around. Now, he told me that he was going to think about it. I don't think that it actually it 100% changed his mind, but when I first approached the door, he was absolutely 100% he wasn't voting for a black person.

Michael Fedor

We in this room are not going to solve the race issue in America. This is a 200-year-old wound with a 60-year scab on it, right?

Lisa Pollak

That's Michael Fedor, a union organizer in central Pennsylvania, teaching a training session I attended in Johnstown last month. Michael's message to union members was utterly practical: some people's minds can't be changed no matter what you tell them, and the best way to sway the others is with the facts. He cited research showing that the more union members know about Obama's record and positions, the more they like him.

Unions have gone to a lot of effort and expense this year to get that message out, with all sorts of mailings and voter guides and videos that emphasize Obama's support for labor and the working class. Like this one from the building and construction trades.

Senator Barack Obama

It's time we had a president who didn't choke saying the word "union." It's not that hard. Union. See? Nothing happens. Union. It's all right.

Man 13

You see, brothers and sisters, there's not a single good reason for any worker, especially any union member, to vote against Barack Obama. There's only one really bad reason to vote against him, because he's not white.

Lisa Pollak

This is a nonpartisan commercial from the American Federation of Government Employees.

Man 14

There are 100 good reasons for how you vote this year, and only one bad reason: prejudice. Let's talk about the real issues.

Lisa Pollak

This is a training tape from the United Steelworkers.

Man 15

If you closed your eyes and listen to Barack Obama, you walk away and you say, that's my guy. 98% voting record for labor on labor's issues. That's why we back him. John McCain, 15%.

Lisa Pollak

But for all the statistics and talking points, what I realized, listening to union members in Pennsylvania, is that when you're actually face to face with people who say they won't vote for your candidate because he's black, you're on your own. You have to muddle through and figure out your own way to do it, to navigate this touchy emotional subject, with people whose beliefs may never have been challenged before.

And union members are doing this. Some have had so much practice that now they've got their response lines down cold, their own favorite combinations of issues and zingers. They try everything from, if you were drowning, wouldn't you let a black guy save you? To, white guys have messed this country up plenty, so why not give a black man a chance? I heard one union official quote a Chris Rock line, "was America ready for a black baseball player in the '40s? No, but Jackie Robinson was better than everyone."

And then there was the union local president, who said he actually got out a globe to prove to an elderly relative that no less a revered figure than Jesus must have been black. Here he is, Wendell Young IV, explaining to members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, how he made that argument.

Wendell Young Iv

It's OK for God to send a black Jesus to save your ass, but it's not OK to vote for a guy for president who's going to make sure you have health care, protect your pension, do those other things. And by the way, if I'm wrong, who's going to be able to prove it? But here's one thing, if you're a Christian and you believe in the teachings of Christ, Christ wouldn't have cared whether he was black. Wouldn't have cared.

[APPLAUSE]

Lisa Pollak

A couple people even told me that, as a last ditch effort, when they can't change the subject to the issues because race is the voter's only issue, they'll ask the person to please consider not voting for a president at all. The most intense conversations I heard about weren't between strangers on a phone line or a front porch, but face to face between coworkers and friends.

In my search for people willing to share their stories from the field, I was introduced to a man named Dan, who's not from Pennsylvania but from Maryland, where he's in the Steamfitters Union. He told me about a conversation he had with a friend about the election.

Dan

You know, I asked him, I say, dude, what about Barack Obama? You know what I mean? He's a union guy. You're a union guy. You've kind of got to help us out here. And Mike's going, well I'm not voting for this black guy.

And the specifics were that he'd had problems. He's got young daughters, and they go to school, and he picks them up at the bus stop and he sees them playing with a lot of blacks. And that bothers him. And I said, Mike, dude, it's-- you know, he's just a racist. I mean, it's terrible.

Lisa Pollak

And do you remember what you said?

Dan

Well, yeah. Well, Mike, I said, you've got to get past this. I said, this is crazy. If you let race get in the way of what's going to happen with your future, I said, you're just, you're being an idiot about it. And I was starting to get a little bit angry, because I've known this guy for several years, and I never knew the way that he felt. And it was offensive to me, the way that he talked about it.

Lisa Pollak

And you told him so.

Dan

Absolutely, absolutely. And he goes, well, dude, that's the way it is. You live your life, you see things the way you do and I see things the way I do. I said, yeah, but Mike, you've got to get past this not only for this election but with your life. I mean, you know, you work with black guys, with several people that we know, and you never have a problem with them.

And he goes, well, on the job I've got to work with them. I said, well, I see you, you sit there and eat lunch with them, you joke around, and play around. That's not work. You do that, you don't dislike those guys.

He goes, well, he goes, I'll look at the information and everything, and we can talk about this later. But he goes, I just don't think I'm going to do it. I'm just not going to do it. I'm not going to have a black man in there. He said, the next thing you know, you'll have Jesse Jackson as secretary of state and Al Sharpton in the Department of the Treasury. He thinks that Barack Obama's going to flood all his cabinets with all these black radicals.

Lisa Pollak

He told you that?

Dan

Oh, absolutely, yes. I said, come on, Mike. You can't be serious. This is the president of the United-- This is going to be the president of the United States. It's not a game. And he goes, well, that's the way I feel about it. And I said, well, I'm sorry to hear you say that, Mike.

Lisa Pollak

So you didn't get anywhere with him?

Dan

No, absolutely no. No, not at all. I kind of wish I hadn't of gotten into this the way that I have, because it's shown me sides of people that I've worked with and known for many years that I had no idea were like this. And it hurts me, because these people were my-- are my friends. And to finally-- I feel betrayed, honestly.

Lisa Pollak

I would end the story there, were it not for all the people who've insisted to me, that as disappointing as it can be, speaking up is always worth it. One of those people is John Cunnard, a machine operator and president of United Steelworkers Local 1211, in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. He says he's had a lot of these conversations with his members the past few months. He's got his own favorite tactics and comebacks. And he's seen them work.

John Cunnard

I've got a few people down there that I thought would never go for Obama, but they're on my side. They're pushing Obama.

Lisa Pollak

John, of all people, should know voters can change. During the Pennsylvania primary, he was a fierce supporter of Hillary Clinton. But when Obama got the nomination, John joined the ranks of the undecided, worried about Obama's lack of experience, even though he knew that Hillary and Obama had much more in common than Hillary and McCain. To my surprise, John said he still might be undecided if he hadn't gone to a union meeting and heard none other than Richard Trumka bring up the subject of race.

John Cunnard

When he got up there and started talking, there was no doubt in your mind that he was talking black and white, and he wanted you to think about whether you're going to vote for this guy or not vote for him because he's black. And I started thinking about it. I'm sitting there thinking, well, damn, I really don't discriminate against anybody, but who knows.

But it made me look at the whole situation. And eliminating color out of it, which one of these two would I rather have as president? So once I eliminated color, then it was Obama. Well, I just sat there and said, well, yeah, you're right. See, so a lot of people don't think about it, because everybody sits there and says, not me.

Lisa Pollak

John told me he's never put as much effort into pushing a candidate as he has this year. And I get the feeling that goes for a lot of union members in Pennsylvania. According to polling numbers from the AFL-CIO, Obama's lead over McCain among union households in Pennsylvania rose 11 points between mid-August and early October. That poll gave McCain 27% of those voters, and Obama, 63%.

Ira Glass

Lisa Pollak. Coming up, we take another turn around the state, and along the way we checked back in with the college students and the Democrats for McCain that we heard from earlier. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Four. State College, Part Two.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today, with a week to go before election day, we are spending the hour in one of the hottest battleground states this year, Pennsylvania, to see how the ground war is playing out there. Earlier in this hour, we heard college students who were struggling to make their voter registration goal for Barack Obama. That goal was 21,000 new student voters, and it was not going well.

Sarah Koenig picks up the action where we left off, with one of the volunteers she's following, one who is incredibly skilled at getting registrations, Casey Miller.

Sarah Koenig

Casey basically lives in the Obama office. She's earned her own corner there. She's got a little desk with a vase of dying flowers on it, sent by her mother for her birthday. And there's her computer. Four backpacks are lying around, cigarettes, nail polish. She keeps a curling iron in the bathroom.

She dropped three of her six mechanical engineering classes to do this, and she's way behind on the ones she didn't drop. She didn't plan on any of this. She's not someone who ever worked on campaigns before, but she took it pretty hard when John Kerry lost.

Casey Miller

I cried when Bush won in '04.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, you did?

Casey Miller

Oh yeah, yeah, all night. I just balled my eyes out. It was just awful. I called my mom crying. I couldn't believe it. And I lost a lot of faith in this country when we reelected him. I don't understand how.

The fact that we made the same mistake twice, just, that's what basically turned me off from the whole politics thing. I kind of threw myself into engineering, lived in the bubble of Penn State, and really didn't worry about anything outside of school and my social life and whatever.

And then, as things got progressively worse, that's when I decided, yeah, I want to start volunteering with the Obama campaign. It was probably June when I decided that I wanted to do that. I came in, in July, and haven't left.

Sarah Koenig

Six days before the registration deadline, the campaign throws a party for all the volunteers. Outside the room, the registration thermometer is at about 14,000, 2/3 of the way toward their goal. There's a DJ, but people are so tired and rundown, no one dances, except, briefly, Casey.

Then, as some sort of scared straight motivation tool, they play them what passes for a campaign horror movie. It's a fake video of NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw announcing a McCain victory. Afterwards, stunned silence. It seems like the next logical thing is for everyone to burst into tears, but they quickly move on.

Next up is Jay Paterno, son of Penn State football coach slash legend, Joe Paterno. Paterno the son is the team's quarterback coach, and he brings three football players along, two of them had to be registered on the spot. Meanwhile, he delivers a halftime locker room pep talk to roughly 50 kids listening.

Jay Paterno

You've got six days left. And this is the toughest part of the election, guys. And where you guys are right now is you're in the middle of preseason practice, and preseason practice, quite frankly, sucks. Am I lying? No. It sucks. OK? Because it's all you do. And how good a football team we are in the fall depends on what we do in preseason practice. And how much Obama wins this thing by is going to be determined by what you guys do the next couple of weeks.

Sarah Koenig

His message is, don't stop, don't relax. And for the next six days, no one does. The workers are put in competition with each other. Prizes are announced. And everyone starts fighting everyone else to boost their own numbers. People are encroaching on other people's turf. Some registrations are getting double counted. Someone is spotted swiping completed forms from another organization's drop box.

But, of course, this 11th-hour frenzy is choreographed by the campaign, because the last thing anyone wants at the end of all this is to have to admit that they didn't meet their goal. Though, in reality, the 21,000 goal has a cushion built in. It's more than Obama needs, but only people at the very top of the campaign know how much more.

It's Sunday night, October 5, the night before the deadline. There's a party atmosphere in the campaign office, except everyone at the party is seriously sleep deprived, and also, working. Zack Zabel, the head of Students for Barack Obama, comes in with some forms.

Sarah Koenig

How many did you get?

Zack Zabel

Seven, but that's like the fourth time I've done it today.

Sarah Koenig

You seem really, really tired.

Zack Zabel

I'm all right. We should actually go out and do it on the streets right now, register voters.

Sarah Koenig

Keep going?

Zack Zabel

Yeah. We only have like 15 hours.

Sarah Koenig

If you listen closely, you can hear Ben Flatgard, the regional director, singing from his office. He's doing who knows what on his computer, coughing. Then Casey comes in a few minutes before midnight. She's been at some student apartment buildings, and now she's delivering her forms for the daily count.

Ben Flatgard

How many did you get?

Casey Miller

I just brought back 32. Tom and I, yeah, Tom's in. He--

Sarah Koenig

It's their best Sunday yet, but Casey's not comforted by this milestone.

Casey Miller

It's exciting. I mean, I'm really-- it's a little concerning because we registered 562 people today. Why weren't they registered before? Are there still people that are going to be not registered? So, I'm just going to be the last person on the streets.

Sarah Koenig

Casey goes back out to keep registering. It's past midnight now. She heads to a crowded below-ground bar where there's a live band playing. It's so loud I can barely record.

Casey Miller

Are are you all registered to vote at your current address?

Sarah Koenig

I assume she's going to want to leave, since no one can hear a word she's saying, but she stays and she gets 12 registrations.

Casey Miller

Are you registered to vote at your current State College address? Are you registered to vote at your current State College address?

Sarah Koenig

In the end, they didn't make their 21,000 goal, but they were close. They registered 16,904 students. And if you add in all the other groups, MoveOn, SEIU, Sierra Club, over 23,600 people were registered in the county.

Casey, of course, registered more voters than anybody else, and won a prize: football tickets. As a result of all this work, Centre County now has over 100,000 voters for the first time ever. And also for the first time, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by 5,000 registrations.

Dianne Gregg, chairwoman of the County Democrats, is pretty happy. Her county, she says, is now in a position to have an enormous impact on the outcome of this election. Dianne keeps a poster of James Carville in her office to reminder of his infamous comment, that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Alabama in between. Her goal, she said, is to make Carville regret that quote.

Act Five. Scranton, Part Two.

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig. And, before we go, let's take one last trip around the state, and turn from Obama volunteers to McCain volunteers. Back at the beginning of this hour, we were in Scranton with our producer Nancy Updike, and the group, Democrats for McCain.

If you remember, that group was going door to door, having remarkable success in nudging Democrats into the Republican column. Now we return to Scranton.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Nancy Updike

The Democrats for McCain office in Scranton is run by people who give serious chunks of their lives in service to others. One woman who's been a foster parent for 22 years, another, covered in paint, who came to the McCain office straight from her stint at Habitat for Humanity, and Judy O'Connor, a 59-year-old single mother of three on a fixed income, who pared her life down to a financial minimum to help her son, a fireman and military veteran, achieve his dream of becoming a policeman. All of them lifelong Democrats, never voted for a Republican presidential candidate in their lives.

Judy O'connor

We were staunch Hillary Clinton supporters. We worked Hillary's campaign. We traveled to other states with Hillary.

Nancy Updike

This is Judy O'Connor.

Judy O'connor

Matter of fact, we went to the DNC meeting in Washington, DC, and that's when our party, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, and the DNC, what we say, threw Hillary under the bus.

Nancy Updike

For Judy and everyone else here, the primary battle was not a tough fight with equally questionable maneuvers on both sides. Chris and others at the office talked about personally seeing Obama supporters at caucuses, especially Texas, keeping Hillary supporters out of caucus rooms, shouting at them, preventing them from bringing in Hillary signs, all of which, not surprisingly, they say is more egregious than any tactics used by the Clinton campaign.

Challenges were filed at the Texas State Convention, but the relative unethicalness and, more important, the legality of what Chris and others saw, is hard to evaluate in the absence of a lawsuit, and no lawsuit charging caucus fraud by the Obama campaign has been filed nationally or in Texas.

The question I kept asking Judy and the others was, how does a person go from supporting a pro-choice candidate who gets a grade of 100 from unions and wants to raise the capital gains tax, to a pro-life candidate who gets a zero from unions and wants to cut the capital gains tax? Everyone had his or her own answer, but no answer went without an enraged retelling of the primary fight, especially the day the Democratic National Committee divided up the delegates from Michigan and Florida, a compromise using debatable math and logic that seemed to a lot of people not just unfair but undemocratic.

Judy O'connor

And we found ourselves having to decide between the two candidates left. And Hillary Clinton said, let's compare resumes, and that's exactly what we did. We compared Hillary's with John McCain. It was very impressive. We looked at Obama's and there was nothing there. I mean, he was in, what, in the Senate 143 days, and the rest of the time he spent on his campaign, working his campaign.

So, I mean, there isn't experience there. I mean, even when I watch John McCain on TV, whenever he's speaking, I honestly, honestly can say I trust him and I feel the man is genuine. I truly feel he's genuine. I have tried. I'm not going to say, as a Democrat, I'm not going to say that I haven't tried to listen to Obama and be open-minded. I've tried. I do not, I do not, less and less do I trust him.

And I'm worried. I'm very worried for our country if he gets elected.

Nancy Updike

This was a theme with everyone I talked to. I like John McCain, but more than that, I'm worried about Obama, worse than worried, scared.

In four days, I heard a lot of fear and some outlandish theories, that George Soros orchestrated the global financial crisis to give Obama a boost in the election, that Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi secretly paid for Obama's Harvard education, possibly related to a terror financing scheme, that Obama is a crypto-Marxist, a socialist who will somehow take over the world economy, and most spectacularly, Judy met someone on the campaign trail named Larry Sinclair, a man with a 27-year criminal record, a 16-year prison stint for forgery, and 13 aliases, who's been going around saying Obama is a homosexual, a crack cocaine user, and possibly, a murderer.

Nancy Updike

Do you believe it?

Judy O'connor

I don't know what to-- you know, I want to believe in my country. I want to believe in the people who want to be in our government. But did I question in my mind? Yes, I did. And when I went home, I got back on the internet and researched a little bit more, and everything that Larry Sinclair said to us was true.

Nancy Updike

Was true according to other websites.

Judy O'connor

To Larry Sinclair and other people.

Nancy Updike

Is there anything you've heard about Obama, any sort of rumor that you don't believe, you feel like, ah, that's not true?

Judy O'connor

I didn't want to believe that. I really didn't. I didn't want to believe that. And, like I said, to this day, I still don't know if I do or I don't, but it makes you stop and wonder.

Nancy Updike

The thing all these Obama stories made me stop and think was, this reminds me of how people used to talk about the Clintons. Thieves, murderers. Hillary Clinton a lesbian, a radical, her college thesis on Saul Alinsky, her health care plan a socialist takeover. It was as though disagreeing on policy was simply not enough for some people to express just how alien the Clintons seemed.

So if winning over Democrats is key to McCain winning Pennsylvania, how can we estimate the number of Democrats who are in fact turning to McCain? Until the election, all we've got to go on is, insert gagging sound here, polls. A Pew Research poll last month said only 12% of Hillary Clinton supporters nationwide said they'd vote for McCain. And a more recent Pew survey said only 4% of Democrats support McCain. Polls, of course, are frequently, and sometimes wildly wrong.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike.

Act 6.

Steve Corbett

Some people didn't see the sunshine the day after the Weather Underground attacked America. I'm Corbett. I had a caller yesterday who--

Ira Glass

While spending weeks in Pennsylvania, we listened to talk radio around the state, and we close our program today with this air check from WILK-FM, 1300 AM, in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton. On October 8, their local drive time host Steve Corbett spent his whole air shift talking about Bill Ayers and Bill Ayers' association with Barack Obama.

Steve Corbett

My dad was a cop. I said it before and I'll say it again. And there are other cops, who, because of the Weather Underground, founded by Bill Ayers, Barack Obama's buddy, did not see the sunshine. It's relevant. And I welcome Barack Obama supporters to call us today and defend Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. I beg them. Call me and defend, on behalf of your candidate--

Ira Glass

Then, for the next four hours, from 3:00 in the afternoon to 7:00, he got this huge range of callers taking every position on this. One woman worried that Obama would make Bill Ayers secretary of education. A man accused Corbett of finding fault with Obama only because he, Corbett, had wanted a woman president, that is, Hillary. There was a long conversation with a guy who once lived in a house that the Weather Underground bombed. And then, towards the end of all this, there was this call.

Steve Corbett

The free for all continues. Dave, caller from Wilkes-Barre, you're in the free for all. Welcome, you're on the air.

Dave

How are you doing, Steve?

Steve Corbett

Good.

Dave

I heard earlier we are talking about Bill Ayers and Barack Obama. I mean, they talk about Bill Ayers being connected to Obama, and you would assume that it would gain a lot of traction in the media and with voters, but it just doesn't seem to be having the kind of impact that you would assume it would have.

And I think it's because people look at Barack Obama, and I'm one of those people, and we say, the Barack Obama that I see isn't the Barack Obama that would be associated with these people. And I think to myself, what's the implication? Like, all along he thinks that it's OK that Bill Ayers was a bomber, and that somehow in the back of his mind he thinks that this is acceptable behavior. Because I just don't see that.

I see him as an American story that is just amazing. Like, I think that he's lived a middle-class life and he's worked hard and he's raising his family. And he is a man, I think, of extraordinary moral character. And people say, well, the facts say otherwise. But a lot of times, for example, Sarah Palin, she said she's a maverick, where, in some cases, the facts are otherwise.

But people, in their heart of hearts, believe that she's really a maverick. So I think so much of this stuff comes down to the impression that these guys make, because we don't really know what's in their hearts and their minds.

Steve Corbett

You're absolutely right. You're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, Dave. You're doing a lot of thinking. People will see what they want to see. And very often, we see the very same set of circumstances in very different ways. But you're doing exactly what you should do. I just wish more people would follow your example.

Dave

Thanks.

Steve Corbett

Thank you. And that's exactly right. He's trying to figure it out. And he knows, as we all know, if we think it through, it's risky. It's risky to go into that voting booth and believe in somebody. I got Ray. No, I got Les in Scranton. How are you doing, Les?

Les

Hey, Steve. How are you doing?

Steve Corbett

Good.

Les

[INAUDIBLE PHRASE].

(HOST) IRA GLASS: Thanks to Steve Corbett and the folks at WILK.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by our senior producer Julie Snyder, with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Production help from Seth Lind and P.J. Vogt. Music help from Jessica Hopper.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, www.thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia. During this pledge drive that's going on right now, a woman actually tried to get him to pledge. And he said:

Torey Malatia

Are you out of your ever-lovin' mind, lady?

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.