Like most people on facebook, I don't particularly value my time. But there's still no way I'd spend any of it voting in a Democratic primary this year. Yet in each state, the Democratic Party is asking members to vote for Barack Obama, even though no one is running against him. It's as if someone were trying to build the most boring Soviet-themed amusement park possible.
Worse yet, on Jan. 21, Nevada threw a Democratic caucus, which is like a primary that you have to stay at for hours. But since I know TIME readers expect balanced political coverage, I volunteered to go to Las Vegas to investigate while my colleagues went to South Carolina to cover the much more glamorous Republican primary. The day before the caucus, I shook off a hangover with an amazing buffet breakfast at the swank Cosmopolitan hotel and arrived at the Obama headquarters, where volunteers were calling voters with a difficult pitch: We need you to spend several hours tomorrow afternoon in a high school cafeteria to persuade people to elect Barack Obama over Barack Obama. In Las Vegas. At an event without free drinks, naked women or an outcome you could gamble on.
The office was packed with about 20 volunteers, all using their own cell phones. They were determined to get a higher turnout than the reported 3,000 people who showed up to Republican caucuses in 2004 to vote for an unopposed President Bush. They believed this would greatly impress people. They, apparently, know even more-boring people than I do. And I know the people in the office who wanted to go to South Carolina.
I listened to Rachel Leavitt, an 18-year-old UNLV student, read from a script to a prospective caucusgoer. It did not go well. "I like to think people aren't lying to me," she said. "But it seems a little strange that all the people who can't go are going on vacation tomorrow."
Yet most volunteers were doing better than 50%. "It's shocked the heck out of me," said Kevin Hagerty, a chiropractor. "People are really cranked up." Hagerty supported the campaign so much in 2008 that he even went to the Inaugural Ball. This was a man who would clearly do anything for Obama. Until I asked if he was going to be a delegate to the national convention in Charlotte, N.C. "No," he said. "I've lived around Charlotte before. There's no reason to go to Charlotte."
But unlike going to Charlotte, Hagerty explained, spending his Friday afternoon begging people to caucus for an unopposed candidate had a purpose: it was a fire drill for November. These calls were helping the volunteers update their phone lists, enlist more volunteers, get contributions and register Democrats. It seemed cruel to trick people into spending their Saturday voting just to test the Obama campaign's organizational skills. I needed to find out just how angry people would be once they arrived at the caucus--after I finished another breakfast buffet.