Sunday, October 31, 2004
Final push: Get voters excited
Parties' lists target every potential vote
By Jim Siegel and Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writers
Television commercials, yard signs, direct mail and phone calls are all important parts of a modern political campaign, and Ohioans have been bombarded with all of them this year.
But, as campaign strategists say, yard signs don't vote. And so with the longest and hardest-fought presidential race in memory now in its final three days, the only thing left for the campaigns to do is to get their supporters to the polls Tuesday.
"By now in the election cycle, people are largely tuning out TV, mail and recorded phone calls," said Chris McNulty, executive director of the Ohio Republican Party. "The best thing for us in the end is person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor contact."
And so this weekend, armies of campaign volunteers fanned out across Ohio to make sure no one underestimates the importance of their vote.
For Democrats Saturday, that effort took the form of a 30-car caravan through the reliably Democratic Cincinnati neighborhoods of Bond Hill, Avondale, Over-the-Rhine, Northside, College Hill and Winton Place.
With a police escort and a flat-bed truck holding a sound system and a live DJ, the horn-honking motorcade provided a noisy reminder of Tuesday's importance.
"The idea is to drive up the level of excitement. It's highly visible, and it's a lot of fun," said Corey Ealons, the Kerry-Edwards campaign's regional press secretary.
For Republicans, the focus Saturday was on preparing President Bush's last big-venue rally of the campaign at Great American Ball Park tonight. Bush is expected to speak at 8 p.m. in a Halloween-themed rally, stay overnight here and take a Marine helicopter to Wilmington Monday for a 7:30 a.m. rally with first lady Laura.
"This is the president himself assisting us in our get-out-the-vote activities," said Greg Hartmann, the Hamilton County campaign chairman. "All our volunteers are making phone calls, going door to door, making personal contact. But this is the candidate himself making personal contact with Hamilton County, and it's going to help us squeeze every vote we can out of the county."
Ohio's importance is underscored further by the Democratic campaign schedule: Sen. John Kerry will appear in Cleveland Monday night, and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, will be in Cincinnati late Monday afternoon for a rally at a location yet to be determined.
But even before the political conventions, the wall-to-wall television ads, the mushrooming yard signs and the almost daily candidate visits to Ohio, strategists in both camps had already put in place their game plans for the final 72 hours of the campaign.
From rental vans to glow sticks, nothing is left to chance in an unprecedented logistical effort to get an estimated 5.8 million Ohio voters to the polls.
Leading up to the 2000 presidential election, polls had George W. Bush winning Ohio by such a comfortable margin that Al Gore pulled his ads and stopped visiting the state in mid-October.
But when the smoke cleared, Bush won Ohio by just 3.6 percentage points.
"2000 was a wake-up call for us in Ohio," said Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. "When we did the precinct analysis, it was apparent we got our clocks cleaned on turnout."
He vows not to let it happen again.
72 hours and counting
If you (or maybe your neighbors) have voted Republican in the past, but perhaps you've skipped a recent election or two, don't be surprised to hear soon from a Republican volunteer.
Called the 72 Hour program - named for its all-out push in the final days before the election - the Ohio Republican Party is combining its detailed election databases and about 80,000 volunteers to target likely Republican voters through personal phone calls and door-to-door visits, urging them to vote.
Using a 10-year history of voters in Ohio, Republicans can skip past those who dutifully cast a ballot in every election and focus on those with more sparse voting records. They'll target those who have voted Republican in the past, or who live in strong Republican neighborhoods.
McNulty describes them as "the voter that is with us...but might be distracted for one reason or another on Election Day from going to the poll."
With a tight race expected, McNulty notes that if the GOP can turn out just one more Republican-friendly voter in each of Ohio's 12,000 precincts, it could make the difference in the outcome.
Trial runs of the 72 Hour program in Ohio have shown proven results, McNulty said. In 2002, the party picked two almost identical precincts in Butler County and tested the program in one of them.
In the precinct where volunteers were used, voter turnout was 10 percent higher, he said.
The party ran the program for real in 2003, when it targeted about 25 precincts for the Canton mayor's race. Turnout in those precincts was 3 to 10 percentage points above the city average and, McNulty said, those numbers added up to equal the 400-vote margin of victory for Republican Janet Weir Creighton.
Aaron McLear, spokesman for Bush-Cheney Ohio, stood in the busy state campaign headquarters surrounded by volunteers making calls and predicted turnout would determine the winner Tuesday.
Republicans are confident they have the edge.
"It doesn't matter what the polls say, it's going to come down to the ground game," McLear said.
Taking voters to polls
Democrats and the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Ohio have rented cars and signed taxi contracts all over the state to take people to the polls. They bought 50,000 glow sticks and 50,000 ponchos for volunteers who are going door-to-door in these final days.
The party even has a person whose job it is to make sure there are snacks at Ohio polling places, in case voters have to wait in long lines.
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Brendon Cull, playing off actor Arnold Schwarzenegger's visit to Columbus Friday, resorted to calling the Bush camp "grass-roots girlie men." He produced numbers that purported to show that Democrats had made more phone calls, knocked on more doors and had more Election Day volunteers than did the Republicans.
Voters who in a past election were called once or twice are being called four to eight times, said Jennifer Palmieri, spokeswoman for the Kerry Ohio campaign.
"We're not messing around," she said. "It's the most intense operation the Democratic Party has ever run.
"We know, by name, every single voter we need to vote for John Kerry. We know where they live and what they care about."
Like the Republicans, Democrats are banging on doors and ringing phones at unprecedented rates, using more than 26,000 volunteers. Palmieri said the effort this year makes 2000 look like "child's play."
Dems and friends
Even the fund raising is better. The Ohio Democratic Party recently began running ads on Air America radio. Liberal talk show host Al Franken encouraged listeners in other states to donate through the Ohio party's Web site.
In two weeks, the ad raised more than $280,000 to spend on voter turnout, about 15 times what Ohio Democrats raised online in the months leading up to that point, Trevas said.
And, like past elections, Democrats are getting plenty of help from friends.
Labor union turnout is largely credited for closing the gap in 2000, and this year, most Ohio unions are operating under a program called Take Back Ohio, designed to make union election efforts bigger and more efficient.
William Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said his union alone has more than 3,000 volunteers targeting Kerry supporters for turnout - at least three times more than in 2000.
"I've never seen this kind of excitement and willingness of people to do things than we've seen this year," he said. "We're going to cover every base we've always covered, only it's going to be covered better."
This year, Democrats also are getting significant support from independent groups such as America Coming Together (ACT) and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
After combining to sign up more than 250,000 new voters in Ohio - the vast majority of whom lean Democratic - they now have more than 13,000 volunteers trying to get them out to vote.
"I think Democratic turnout on Election Day will be unprecedented," ACT Ohio spokesman Jess Goode said. "I've never seen anything like the energy I'm seeing right now."
In 2000, just over 4.8 million Ohioans turned out to vote - 63.7 percent. Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell estimates 72.7 percent of Ohio's 8 million registered voters will turn out Tuesday, which would be the highest rate since 1992, when 77 percent showed up.
Voter registration is up more than 7 percent over 2000, when 7.5 million people were registered.
"This election, more than ever, is about turnout," Blackwell said. "It's a very robust and competitive race."
Enquirer reporter Howard Wilkinson contributed. E-mail email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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