Norman Chapman, 82, of Shady Cove, talks with Nathan Miller, 28, West Virginia, about registering to vote in the entry way to Sherm’s Food For Less. - Bob Pennell

Volunteers register voters, stump for Obama

Nathan Miller has stood in front of Food For Less in Medford for hours at a time coaxing people to register to vote.

"We do it every day," said the 28-year-old from Kingwood, West Virginia. "This generally is our best spot."

Miller and 10 other people from across the country came to the Medford area in June as "organizing fellows" for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Working without pay, they have canvassed voters, staffed phone banks, trained volunteers and helped set up a grassroots organization for the presumptive Democratic nominee.

"They're going out to places that traditionally don't get a lot of attention," said Rob Hill, Oregon director for the Obama campaign.

The Obama fellows were sent to 17 key states with special training to create grassroots volunteer groups that will carry on after they leave on June 26. The number of local fellows has shrunk to six since the program first started because several had other commitments.

"I think they are going to make a real contribution to what happens in Jackson County," said Paulie Brading, chair of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee.

She said more than 100 Obama organizers are working in a dozen offices throughout the state.

The volunteers earn no money for their efforts and have to pay for their own food, but the Obama campaign has found them local places to stay. Two of the fellows have been living at Brading's house for the past six weeks.

"Every morning we get up, and we all have our laptops out in a circle," she said. "We have our coffee and tea and then they go out and register voters."

Many of the volunteers are college or university students, but one woman is a doctor who divides her time between political organizing in Jackson County and working in a California emergency room.

During their time here, the volunteers have helped register about 700 voters.

At Food for Less on Tuesday, most people who met the fellows said they were already registered or were in a hurry to shop.

Norman Chapman changed his voter registration from Democrat to independent with the help from Miller, the West Virginia volunteer.

"I don't like any of them," Chapman said, referring to the two presidential candidates. "McCain is just a rerun of what we've had for the past eight years, and Obama — well, it's just a gut reaction."

The 82-year-old Shady Cove man said he's unsure who he will vote for in the presidential election.

Chapman had mistakenly put an "x" in the box for Democrat, but Miller showed him the right box to register as an independent.

Obama fellow Anita Lederer said most of the people she has registered have said they are Republicans who are going to vote Democrat.

A Banning, Calif., resident, the 20-year-old Boston College student said she gave up much of her summer vacation because she is such a strong supporter of Obama.

Lederer and Chapman have different styles of approaching people about voter registration.

"You've got to shove the clipboard in their faces," said Lederer, who is nevertheless friendly when she talks to people.

Miller, who earned a masters in journalism from West Virginia University, said his style is far less aggressive. He prefers to gently ask people if they've registered to vote.

Lederer got a little bonus for helping one woman register. "She was so excited she gave me her ice cream," she said.

Meanwhile, Republicans are gearing up for a Jackson County effort to support Sen. John McCain in the November election. Bryan Platt, chair of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, said local party officials will soon kick-off the McCain campaign locally.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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