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Volunteers spread Democratic roots across Orange County

February 02, 2008|By Chris Caesar

California’s decisive Feb. 5 primary is just days away, and Orange County is abuzz with grassroots political activity.

It’s the first election in many decades that sees no obvious heir apparent for either party.

While momentum from New Hampshire and Iowa has thinned each party’s pool of candidates, the parties and their advocates remain engaged in serious races for control of their party, and ultimately, the country.

Boris Mamlyuk is one such soldier. A PhD student at Cornell University, Mamlyuk has taken up residence as a full-time volunteer at Barack Obama’s new volunteer center in Costa Mesa.

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The center, as is its counterpart in Santa Ana, is funded solely with volunteer contributions: local residents throwing in $20 or more, if they could afford it. It has no paid staffers.

“This organization is just as grassroots as it gets,” he said. “There are no lawn signs anywhere, because there is a deficit; the demand is so high, we run out.”

“The offices are just fantastic. We have hundreds of volunteers, and are opening satellite phone banking locations throughout the county,” he added.

Earlier that week, the campaign organized a drive with the goal of calling 100,000 Californians to stump for their candidate. They reached 200,000.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which recently opened its offices in Garden Grove, said their volunteers had called more than 300,000 over the same weekend.

The group has reached out to the Vietnamese community in Orange County, drawing many volunteers who speak Vietnamese to stump for the New York senator.

“We’ve done phone banking and some Vietnamese phone banking,” staffer Erin Brinkman said. “We’re doing a lot of outreach with the phones, including ‘Bring Your Own Phone’ parties, where people invite their friends over and make calls for the campaign.”

“As you can see, we’ve made a lot of calls,” she said.

Before former Sen. John Edwards dropped out of the race, his volunteers in Orange County, like Rich Gillock of Costa Mesa, were hardly deterred.

Prior to Edwards’ withdrawal, Gillock was not discouraged that his choice was trailing so far in the polls, saying there is still hope for Edwards’ message of change and anti-corruption to resonate with the broader party. Edwards on Wednesday extracted pledges from Clinton and Obama to keep poverty at the forefront of the issues.

Edwards volunteer James Gula said he had planned on organizing a house party for the candidate, and even toyed with the idea of having a mini-caucus in his home for Democrats to debate the merits of each candidate.

Now he supports Obama, though without the enthusiasm he expressed for Edwards.

“I felt that Edwards addressed what I thought were some of the more central questions of the campaign,” he said, “primarily economics and the disenfranchisement of the middle class.”

“I feel like Clinton is too much into triangulation — responding to what’s going to get her elected instead of sticking to principles,” he said.


CHRIS CAESAR may be reached at (714) 966-4626 or at chris.caesar@latimes.com.

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