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'We are the 51st state for the Democratic Party'

Krishnakumar in New Delhi | November 05, 2008 16:03 IST

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Today four years ago, Carolyn Sauvage-Mar was sitting at her New Delhi [Images] home with about 20 friends shedding tears as the United States presidential election results were announced. For Carolyn, a Democrat who had recently moved to India with her husband who is working with the UN, the narrow loss was difficult to handle.

Four years on, she is sitting in a caf� in the capital with about a hundred people. At around 9:30 am, when the deciding state blue card is pinned on a soft board map and it is clear Barack Obama [Images] will be the next president, Carolyn is all excited.

"It is a great morning. The Obama campaign was a long and defining one. Over 500,000 volunteers worked to reach their fellows and educate them about how to vote from abroad," she said about Democrats in India, an organisation that helped Americans in India learn about how they can cast their vote from here.

When she was watching the results of the 2004 election and how the mess with the absentee ballots affected the outcome, Sauvage-Mar decided to do her bit. "Today, I heard a lot of people say every vote counts," she started talking about Obama's big win. "But back in 2004, we were shocked by the defeat. So, four wives of Americans in India decided to do something about Absentee Ballots. And today, despite the big margin, I believe America has reached the stage where everyone thinks every vote counts," she said.

The campaigns Democrats Abroad and Democrats in India have been working to rally Americans from almost the same time that the Obama campaign started. "From four mothers at the embassy in 2004, we have grown to become an organisation with six chapters in India (Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata)," Sauvage-Mar said.

Though victory is sweet, the journey was very tough, she said: "That is a story in itself. We started off looking for Americans in Khan Market every Saturday. We advertised that we would gather in a said location at a set time. With more such initiatives, we found more people and educated them about voting from abroad."

Shelli Koffman, the regional field director for Americans Abroad for Obama, India and Nepal, added: "We even had a 'Bar-hopping for Barack' initiative where we went around watering holes in the capital looking for Americans who we can help vote."

Koffman, an activist who has been in India for a year, helping set up various NGOs, said a lot of zeal in the overseas voters was thanks to Obama's charisma. "Take me. I first voted in 2000, and my interest in politics dipped for obvious reasons (the Bush Presidency) in the past eight years. Then Obama came along and I was here in India. Inspired, I regained my passion for politics and decided that I would play a part in the drive to ensure maximum absentee votes," she said.

And one thing that the organisation is proud of is drawing voters irrespective of who they support. "We did not look at whether it was Republican or a Democrat we were reaching out to. My belief that in a democracy every vote counts was beyond party lines. So we made it a point to reach out to people from across the political spectrum," she said.

"But," she added with a mischievous smile, "even then it was something like 30 to one in our favour. So we are the 51st state for the Democratic Party!"

The Democrats, having started early, were never threatened in the overseas department. "They (the Republicans) got a woman into Mumbai at the last minute, and in one TV show the anchor said, 'You and Rene have done a wonderful job in bringing together all these voters', and I said 'Wow, wait! I have a database to show you how many voters we went to. Can Rene say the same?'"

On Obama himself, the Democrats are all pumped up. Koffman said: "He has a certain understanding of how interlinked the world is and how isolated it is in some other ways. His global perception, coming from his multi-cultural background and the transparency with which the campaign was run, all drew voters to him," she said.

Sauvage-Mar agreed: "My elder son was there among those cheering in Chicago, My daughter volunteered as a watchdog in the polling stations to ensure nothing funny happened," she said as the giant screen in the caf� caught her attention. It was visuals of people out celebrating on the streets. "Look at that! Nobody organised that. This is amazing. That is what Obama has done," she said.






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