At an Obama campaign volunteer training seminar in 2011, staffers stressed the importance of personal relationships and one-on-one conversations as catalysts for the incumbent’s 2012 election. This is a sentiment Kentlands resident Elly Shaw-Belblidia took to heart through her countless hours as an Obama volunteer.
“I was heavily involved in the ‘08 campaign,” she said, “and I was determined to see Obama reelected. So I helped organize the Gaithersburg team of volunteers. This is literally hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, all inspired by Obama. He does inspire loyalty. He recognized that the election is a personal process and relied on volunteers to use personal relationships and personal calls and visits to people.”
As a loyal contributor, Shaw-Belblidia canvassed, made phone calls, manned tables and booths through two campaigns. Yet it was knocking on doors and speaking with people that she relished.
“Most of the work for the county’s presidential volunteers in ‘12 was located in Virginia, not Maryland,” said Shaw-Belbidia. “They weren’t really worried about Maryland. Virginia was a pivotal state, so they sent us into neighborhoods to canvas and speak to voters. I loved knocking on doors. I just let people talk and try not to hit them with a lot of facts. What I find is that people start off saying they are not sure about a candidate, but then they talk through the issues and it becomes clearer.”
What was abundantly clear is that technology played a big role in this election, much more so than in 2008. “[Campaign organizers] are definitely trying to find a balance of what works and what doesn’t with technology,” said Shaw-Belblidia. “I don’t know that the robo-calls worked. [Organizers] requested data on canvassing and calling immediately so they could put the information to good use. It was very demanding work, and they pushed us hard. If we said we would make 200 calls, they would ask us to make 500. They used the data we collected very carefully.”
Locally, the Board of Elections website shows voting percentages at Rachel Carson Elementary School and Lakelands Park Middle School precincts were in line with that of the county overall with about 65 percent for Obama and about 35 percent for Romney. With numbers trending toward a victory early on, the push to send volunteers outside the state borders made sense.
“We had one contingent spend an entire weekend in the Tidewater area of Virginia,” said Shaw-Belblidia. “The political energy in Montgomery County is high, so we hit the ground running. It is astonishing how committed people are. There are lots of people [who] worked harder than I did.”
The Obama camp counts on that commitment to assist on endeavors relating to the election and beyond, she said.. “Not only did we canvas to poll voters on their opinion, but we were sent back out to ask voters about their plans for voting,” explained Shaw-Belblidia. “What time of day they were going to the polls and things like that. Just a reminder for them to plan ahead. Especially in Virginia where early voting was not an option as it was in Maryland.”
And the work continues, she said. “There is a drop-off of volunteers after the election to be sure, but we will be called upon throughout the year for special initiatives. We will phone and canvas to encourage people to contact their local representatives and voice their opinion about an issue. We also have special events like a food drive we are working as part of the Inauguration.”
The 2008 presidential inauguration was a memorable event for Shaw-Belblidia. “In 2008, I got to go to the best ball. It was the first one of the evening where Beyonce sang.”
This year will be much different, she said. “There are way fewer balls this year, so I am sticking with watching the speech. After receiving tickets for the 2008 swearing in from Senator Mikulski’s office, I was so far from the stage that I had to rely on the jumbotrons. This year I figure I will find a spot on the Mall and not worry about getting into any lines.”
By day, Shaw works as a clinical nutritionist at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. She finds the time for political involvement despite being a busy professional who, with her husband, Lotfi, has raised two grown children.
“It is a passion,” she said. “It is in my blood. I am a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee whose mission it is to elect Democrats, so I’ll be active in every election in the future.”