Just days before the election that will decide the next president of the United States, Frank Leonard sat in a Seattle-area call centre, working the phones to get out the vote for Barack Obama.
His fellow volunteers knew him as Frank, just “a guy with a bit of grey hair” in a room full of much-younger recruits.
While there are many Canadians in the United States engaged in this election campaign – enough to sustain regular coverage in this newspaper – the mayor of Saanich was working incognito.
The Liberal-leaning mayor from British Columbia ended up in Washington state as a Democrat volunteer on the weekend before Halloween because of a chance encounter in Nevada in 2008, during the Democratic Party presidential primaries.
“I had ‘liked’ Barack Obama on Facebook, and I followed him on Twitter. I saw that there was a rally while we were there, so I signed up as a volunteer,” he said. His reward was a near-encounter with the future president – “I was within 10 feet of him.”
This time around, Mr. Leonard, 58, took a weekend off from his municipal duties to volunteer. “I think I was the only Canuck they had seen. They didn’t know at first that I was a Canadian, I signed up as one of them,” he said. His bluff was so convincing, the Washington state organizers tried to send him out canvassing door-to-door. “I figured I would get lost. So I just worked their phone bank.”
As a veteran campaigner himself – the mayor has won 10 of his 11 races for office – Mr. Leonard says he didn’t really learn any new tricks about getting out the vote. He assured his campaign manager back home that being embedded in the Democrat machine didn’t make him doubt his local team. “They are not doing anything in this office that we did not do in mine.” But, he added wistfully, “Their software was very good. Four clicks of a mouse to enter the data I was getting on the phone. That impressed me.”
Mr. Leonard, now in his 16th year as mayor, volunteered for his first campaign in the 1972 B.C. election. He was working for the leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, David Anderson. It was a mixed success: Mr. Anderson won his seat, but his party placed third across the province. “The young people in that campaign office remind me of my first campaign 40 years ago,” Mr. Leonard said. “It sounds corny, but to see all these twentysomethings volunteering because they think it makes a difference – that’s something that brings me pleasure.”
However, he won’t be watching the election returns on Tuesday night. He is chairing a public hearing, and doesn’t dare risk offending his constituents to check his phone for results.