By JARED COUNCIL
In September 2007, when Moses Wilson III entered his junior year at Hampton University, he didn’t anticipate helping U.S Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., become America’s first African-American president-elect.
The then 20-year-old class president also didn’t foresee that his efforts in one of the most historically red states, Virginia, would be enough to turn it blue. The last time Virginia voted Democratic, Moses III wasn’t even an idea. His father, Moses II, was only 19.
Yet, as Obama won primary after primary, Wilson went from supporter to Students for Barack Obama state coordinator in a matter of months, helping lead the cause to mobilize voters in the traditionally red state.
This year, according to data from The New York Times, Virginia voted 52.7 percent blue—a 7.1-point change from 2004 when Democrat John Kerry received 45.5 percent of its popular vote. Only two of the nine “red-turned-blue” states won by Obama this year had a higher percentage change from last election.
Wilson credits the millions of volunteers, staff workers and supporters who worked and voted to help Obama win Virginia. But as SfBO state coordinator, several of his colleagues say he was at the helm of a ship that caused Virginia to change.
Although Virginia turned blue this year, it is still fundamentally red. Of its 134 counties, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won 86 of them (64 percent). In 31 of these, McCain won more than 60 percent of the popular vote.
But the Obama supporters weren’t absent on Nov. 4, and their presence rendered McCain’s numbers ineffective. Although Obama only won 48 counties, he won them by an average of 61 percent. (In Petersburg County, Obama won 89 percent of the votes.) McCain won his 86 counties by an average of only 58.3 percent, according to New York Times data.
Since it’s not about the counties won but about the total number of votes, Obama emerged victorious with more votes in fewer counties.
From July 2007 until 6:59:59 p.m. on Nov. 4, Wilson said he put 100 percent of what he could into the campaign. Early in the campaign, a majority of his work was outside of Virginia.
From November 2007 to last January, Wilson went to South Carolina some seven times to campaign for Obama. “He did a lot,” said Reynolds Graves, 20, a former Hampton student who went on a few of these trips. “He drove down there, organized rides, delegated duties, canvassed and just worked hard to help [Obama] win that state.”
Obama did win that state—and he did so at a critical time: U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., had just won two straight victories and was gaining momentum in the primary race.
Although the victory was commanding (Obama had 55 percent of the vote; Clinton had 27 percent, according to poll results), at first it seemed unlikely that a black person running for president would win in a state where the Confederate flag still waved.
It wasn’t a surprise to South Carolinians, however, many of whom made up their mind weeks before the primary. An Edison/Mitofsky/AP exit poll found that 68 percent of voters knew who they where going to vote for at least two weeks before the primary.
When Moses returned from spending his Christmas break in South Carolina, a job was waiting for him. Rashad Drakeford, then the Virginia state coordinator for SfBO, was promoted to deputy national field director and he wanted Wilson to fill the void. Wilson, formerly Hampton University coordinator, immediately took the position.
“I knew I wanted him [for the campaign],” said Drakeford, “and I didn’t consider anyone but him.”
As the new state coordinator of Virginia, Wilson was in charge of all (more than 30) high school and college chapters of SfBO, including schools such as the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and Old Dominion University. His tasks included communicating and delegating what the national campaign office wanted done; helping chapter leaders organize their offices; and getting campaign supplies to wherever they were needed.
On several occasions, Wilson even mediated disputes over power struggles within the organization; and Ed Reed, colleague and Hampton University coordinator of SfBO, said he was effective.
His high status didn’t exclude him from the tasks of the typical staff worker or volunteer. During the weekend leading up to the election, staff members at the Hampton campaign office recall him staying up past midnight entering data, creating packages and formulating what needed to be done in the upcoming days. On that Monday going into Election Day, past midnight for Wilson was 4 a.m.
Later that day at 6:30 p.m., Victoria McCullough, the regional director for the national Obama campaign, walked into the Hampton campaign office and said that of all the counties in Virginia, Hampton was not doing as well as it should have been. At that moment, Moses left the office and began doing a last minute “get-out-to-vote” effort up until the polls closed at 7 p.m.
Whether McCullough’s statement was true or not, Hampton voted 69.2 to 30.2 percent for Obama. With another 0.8 percentage points, Hampton would have been the eighth voting district to vote 70 percent or more for Obama. In 2004, Kerry had three voting districts that did so.
After the Victory
When Barack Obama was officially announced as the next president of the United States, Wilson recalled feeling a “historical high” and an “achievement high” simultaneously. “It was the best feeling of my life,” Wilson said. “It was the most natural high I’ll never get again.” He said it lasted for three days.
His friends said it lasted a week.
Wilson said he is now trying to make the transition back to the college life, most of which was put on the backburner during the campaign. “I have a different perspective of life,” said Wilson about his campaign experience. “Now I’m just trying to get back to being a student.”
The Obama transition team has not made contact with Wilson. No other offers have been made either, so Wilson intends to continue with his plans as usual. He is currently applying to law schools around the country. Wilson is fervent about a possibility of studying law in London.
“It was definitely an uphill battle,” said Reed, speaking of the effort to turn Virginia blue. “But Obama knew that a big [new-voter] turnout would favor him; and in many respects, Moses was a significant factor in mobilizing that turnout.”
The writer is a junior at Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications