LAS VEGAS When Claire Martin, Liana Dillaway, and Danielle Barnes crammed into a bed barely suited for two in a small Vegas motel, only to wake up at 7 a.m. on Saturday, it wasnt to get a head start at the casinos.
The three second-year theater students were getting ready to start campaigning in Las Vegas suburbs the next day.
They were part of a larger group of about 50 UCLA students who traveled to Nevada to campaign for presidential candidate Barack Obama in the days leading up to the Nov. 4 election.
The trip was one of several organized by Bruin Democrats, who have been going to Las Vegas since the start of the school year.
The group was diverse and consisted of undergraduates, graduate students, experienced campaigners and first-time door-knockers like Martin, Dillaway and Barnes. All arrived in Las Vegas on Friday night with equal enthusiasm.
Even students who dont have a direct stake in the outcome of the election felt it was important to get Nevada residents to vote on Nov. 4.
Madeleine Croydon, an international student from Kings College London, will not be able to vote Nov. 4 but said it is a privilege to be able to campaign for Obama and participate in the election process.
Its just super important for the rest of the world. Whoever is in charge of the White House affects policy everywhere. ... Part of the reason my country is facing a recession right now is because of problems in the economy in America. That wouldnt be happening if someone was running it better, Croydon said.
Margo Mombrinie, a first-year global studies student, has never canvassed before and has a midterm on Tuesday but said participating in the weekend trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Its so much more valuable of an experience that I can actually tell my kids about and say that I was part of the campaign I wasnt just a Barack Obama supporter, Mombrinie said.
This weekend was also different from other Bruin Democrat trips because Obama spoke at a rally in Las Vegas on Saturday, and many students were looking forward to seeing him in person for the first time.
It definitely helped me make this really irrational decision to come to Las Vegas in the middle of (midterms) week, said Ian Wells, a second-year history and political science student.
Though all were looking forward to the rally, Wells was one of the lucky ones able to attend. Those who werent able to attend were disappointed but spent the remainder of the trip still working for the Obama campaign.
Henry Brady, professor of political science at UC Berkeley, said that grassroots campaigning in general can be really effective, but particularly in Nevada, because at this stage in the election, it is not yet certain which candidate will win the swing state.
Nevada is really the closest place; the impact marginally will be much larger and more important, Brady said.
The campaigning this weekend consisted of canvassing knocking on doors to talk to voters and making phone calls to Obama supporters or doing other work in the campaign office.
On Friday night, students stood huddled by the hotels parking lot, discussing their expectations for the trip as a whole.
First-time canvassers did not know what to expect, and veterans said every weekend was still a different experience.
Im more excited than nervous. Its going to be nice to hopefully see other people that support Obama, Martin said.
Shyam Natarajan, a biomedical engineering graduate student, had campaigned with Bruin Democrats before.
Previously, my experience has just been talking with my frends and family about the election, Natarajan said.
But Natarajan said canvassing allows him to directly interact with voters, an aspect of his previous Vegas trip that convinced him to come a second time.
At 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Natarajan and the other campaigners headed to the Obama campaign office.
At the campaign office, students were only one group in a sea of volunteers who were briefed on how to approach voters. They were also given different literature about Obama and local politicians to hand out.
Indeed, most of Saturday was spent knocking on doors in the Vegas heat, though this time around students mostly approached voters who were already pledged to vote for Obama.
Sonya Mehta, events director of Bruin Democrats, said previously in the campaign, canvassers were concerned with persuading undecided voters or helping people register, but now are just focusing on getting voters to the polls.
Were honing in on the supporters that we already have and making sure that they know about early voting, that they have a way to get to the polling locations, that they have all of the information that they need, Mehta said.
But when knocking on doors, most students said they spoke to much fewer than half of their assigned list of voters, because most people were not home.
Its really hit or miss, Mehta said.
A lot of students had different experiences based on how many voters they spoke to and the level of enthusiasm they received.
Mombrinie, who only spoke to a handful of voters all day, said she still felt like she was making a difference.
Id rather do this any day than complaining that Obama didnt win, Mombrinie said.
But other students were not as optimistic about their canvassing experience.
Croydon was disappointed because she said she spoke either to people who were already excited about Obama, or to voters who seemed disinterested about voting as a whole.
It sounds good on paper Yeah, I went to Nevada for the weekend and went door-to-door. Practically, I dont feel like I made much difference, Croydon said.
She said she had a better time on a previous trip with Bruin Democrats that was more concerned with voter registration because she felt like she was making a bigger impact.
Brady said at this point, most voters already know who they are voting for, even in swing states, so persuasion is no longer the focus of door-to-door campaigning.
The most important thing at this point is to make sure they are going to get to the polls, Brady said.