Sunday, October 08, 2000

Major parties fighting hard for every last vote

But first, voters have to register

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's easy to see why Ohio's Republican governor, Bob Taft, spent part of his afternoon Saturday walking a Springdale cul-de-sac and knocking on the doors of homes.

[photo] Ohio Gov. Bob Taft was in Springdale on Saturday to drum up votes for the Nov. 7 election.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        It was the same reason dozens of Democratic Party volunteers fanned out in precincts across Hamilton County, hanging plastic bags full of campaign literature on doorknobs and calling voters from the party office on Main Street downtown.

        It was because, in a presidential election as close as this one is expected to be, every vote counts.

        Especially in Ohio.

        Ohio is considered a crucial state in the presidential election that takes place 30 days from now, and the polls here are nearly even, with Republican George W. Bush holding a small lead in a state his party last won when his father ran for president 12 years ago.

        That is why the Ohio Democratic and Republican parties are spending millions not only on TV advertising in the presidential campaign, but on grass- roots “get-out-the-vote” efforts, known in political shorthand as “GOTV.”

        “We're going after voters one at a time,” the governor said Saturday afternoon, walking down Greencastle Court with Jim Raussen, a GOP candidate for the Ohio House. “There may never be another election as close as this one.”

        Saturday, in all 88 Ohio counties, the Ohio Republican Party's Victory 2000 program — funded by unregulated “soft money” donations to the party — had scheduled events aimed at finding Republican-leaning voters and convincing them of the importance of getting to the polls on Nov. 7.

        In Hamilton County, the county Democratic Party had its own GOTV campaign going on, as it will every weekend through the election, with volunteers working phone banks and going door to door in selected Democratic precincts.

        And, with the deadline for voter registration coming up Tuesday, a nonpartisan group called Vote 2000 sent dozens of volunteers out into the county as part of the group's continuing effort to register new voters in Hamilton County.

        Victory 2000 coordinator Dave Crowley said the nonpartisan voter drive netted 3,096 voters on Saturday alone and 8,036 since the drive began in early August.

        At a Victory 2000 event in Columbus Saturday morning, Mr. Taft told Republican volunteers the 1976 presidential election in Ohio was the best example in recent memory of how every vote counts in a political campaign.

        That year, Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter won Ohio over Republican incumbent Gerald Ford by only 11,000 votes — less than one vote per precinct.

        If one vote per precinct had changed, Ohio, which then had 25 electoral votes, would have gone to Mr. Ford, and if another small state where Mr. Carter won by a small margin — such as Hawaii, which Mr. Carter won by 8,000 votes — had turned, Mr. Ford would have won the election.

        “That's the perfect example to me,” Mr. Taft said, as he walked Springdale's Precinct J Saturday afternoon.

        “The Gore campaign is sending organizers into Ohio, and we have to work harder, find every vote we can,” Mr. Taft said.

        Mr. Taft said he was doing some door-to-door campaigning in selected precincts around the state to “drive home the point. If the governor shows up on your doorstep and asks you to vote, you know it's important.”

        Saturday, with Springdale Mayor Doyle Webster and his wife, LaVonne, tagging along, Mr. Taft knocked on the door of Stephanie Hughes on Cantrell Court. Mrs. Hughes was talking to her pastor on a cordless phone when she opened the door.

        “You won't believe this, but the governor's at the door,” Mrs. Hughes said. She gave the phone to Mr. Taft and he chatted with her caller for a few minutes.

        While Mr. Taft was wrapping up his walk around Springdale, Jene Galvin, who is running the Hamilton County Democratic Party's GOTV effort, was in the party's fourth-floor office at 615 Main St., coordinating a group of phone-bank volunteers and workers out in the field, distributing campaign literature.

        “The other side has more money than we do; we have more soldiers,” Mr. Galvin said. “They're running an air war, we're running a ground war. We use the infantry.”

        Creating visibility for the Gore-Lieberman ticket and the rest of the state and local Democratic candidates is the party's mission, Mr. Galvin said. The party does that, he said, by organizing events where volunteers stand on busy street corners at rush hour, waving signs asking drivers to honk their horns.

        On Nov. 2, Mr. Galvin said, the Democrats plan to form a “massive human billboard” with a thousand volunteers stationed on streets all over Southwest Ohio.

        “If you're driving from downtown Cincinnati to Brown County, we want you to see our people on every corner from Eastgate to Amelia to Georgetown,” Mr. Galvin said.

        The goal of the Democratic effort is to find voters who are registered and are likely to vote Democratic, but who are unlikely to go to the polls without a little prodding.

        “The polls talk to the likely voters,” Mr. Galvin said. “Our job is to get to the unlikely voters. Give them a little lift.

        “We're going after them, one at a time.”

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