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Californians campaigning in Nevada, Colorado

In no-contest California, where polls show Barack Obama leading by miles, what's a campaign volunteer to do?
/ Source: The Associated Press

In no-contest California, where polls show Barack Obama leading by miles, what's a campaign volunteer to do?

Up and leave, of course.

Californians who are eager to have an impact in the presidential election, Republicans as well as Democrats, have been heading to the nearby swing states of Nevada and Colorado by the hundreds, even thousands, during the home stretch.

So many, in fact, that some Obama supporters have turned around and gone back to California to concentrate on local races for the final week of the campaign.

Some of those who have been exported to other states are part of coordinated efforts by the campaigns of Democrat Obama and Republican John McCain, which help volunteers find car pools and lodging. Others have simply packed up and headed out on their own, showing up at campaign offices asking how they can help. Many come for a day or two, others for longer.

Neither campaign will say how many volunteers from California are traveling to swing states, nor how they are being deployed. But the McCain camp has been chartering buses to Reno and Las Vegas over the past several weeks. And the Obama side, with a flood of San Francisco Bay area volunteers headed to Reno, four hours away, has been diverting some to Las Vegas or even Colorado for the last week of the campaign, according to several volunteers here in San Francisco.

"We have an enormous number of excited, energized volunteers who want to be part of this historic change," said Gabriel Sanchez, the spokesman for the Obama campaign in California.

Rick Gorka, a regional spokesman for the McCain campaign based in Reno, said California Republicans were just as enthusiastically traveling for their candidate.

"The voter contacts we're making in Nevada are at historic levels," he said. "We're getting an equal number of volunteers from all three sections of California — southern, central and northern. They bring so much energy. They're on a charter bus and they're phone banking on the way out here."

Nick Johnson, a 25-year-old substitute teacher from Oakland, even moved to Denver in September in order to register to vote for Obama there and spend six weeks as a full-time volunteer for the campaign. He had never volunteered for a campaign before.

"I just think there's a tremendous amount at stake," said Johnson, adding that half the volunteers at the Denver field office where he works are from the San Francisco Bay area.

The volunteer travel is being repeated around the country, with supporters in the District of Columbia and Maryland, for example, heading to more competitive states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

With polls favoring Obama, some volunteers are on the move yet again, returning to California from Nevada or Colorado to focus on local races.

Noam Szoke, a 47-year-old computer consultant in San Francisco, traveled to Reno last weekend. He found himself among hundreds of volunteers from California, most from the Bay area. "I'm actually not going back," he said after returning home. "They feel that the Reno area is well handled and well saturated."

Enrique Asis, a sociologist who teaches at the University of California at Santa Cruz, has traveled to Nevada twice and Colorado once for the Obama campaign. But during the last, crucial days of the campaign, he has decided to stay home in San Francisco to work on local supervisors races.

During his last two trips, to Denver and Carson City, Nev., the Obama campaign had scores more volunteers than it expected, he said. In Carson City, the campaign anticipated 200 volunteers from San Francisco and was met with 350. In Denver, he said, the campaign awaited 70 to 80 people for a training session for Spanish-speaking volunteers and wound up with more than 150.

"Clearly," Asis said, "I'm needed more here."