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Working the boiler room: "It's Donald Sutherland calling from California"

November 4, 2008 |  3:24 pm

Sutherland In a far corner of a cavernous conference room, a white haired man dialed back to the state of Virginia. He was one of 300 people doing the same thing, following a script, calling the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida.

In a familiar voice, the caller told the person at the other end of the line that he was volunteering for Barack Obama and looking for Rita.

"It’s Donald Sutherland calling from California," he said.

The actor was on a mission. He had been placing such calls since 6 a.m. Tuesday and had been there the day before.

He gently asked whether she had cast her vote, or needed help getting to the polls. He got the answer he had hoped for--she was at the polling place as they spoke--said thanks and dialed the next prospective voter on his list.

Next to him, Jane Harvey King, a jazz singer who first voted for Adlai Stevenson, was doing the same. So was Zohreh Tamjidi, a Los Angeles real estate agent who arrived her from Iran as a teen-ager 34 years ago. "This is my duty as a citizen," Tamjidi said. "I couldn’t sit in my office making money today. I had to come here."

They all crowded into a basement room at the Century Plaza. There were so many that they spilled into the lobby. They were lawyers, mothers, real estate agents, teachers, retirees and students, most of them making the calls from their personal cell phones.

California has produced a large share of Obama's money, but in the final days of the election campaign, the state also provided much more: Californians walked door-to-door in swing states, from Virginia to Colorado to Nevada urging people to vote.

From the Century Plaza and other call centers spread across the state, they placed more than 3 million calls to battlegrounds. There are so many of them that in some places they even have a name, "bluebirds," people from blue states who flock to Republican strongholds and swing states to help Obama win.

Sutherland, a Canadian, could not vote or make a campaign donation vote. But he could volunteer. Careful not to speak too loudly, so as to not disturb other callers sitting nearby, he took a brief break to explain why he was making phone calls, and turned passionate.

"You have a man who has intelligence, sensitivity, judgment, intellect. You can see the heart. You can see the hope," he said. "This is the most important election in the world."

After a pause to compose himself, he checked his call sheet, picked up the phone, dialed back to Virginia.

"Mr. and Mrs. Allen, Donald Sutherland speaking. I’m calling from California."

--Dan Morain

Photo: LAT file