Sunday, November 05, 2000

Campaigns shift to ground war

Voter turnout becomes priority

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Campaign 2000 is now a ground war. The air war of 30-second TV spots for candidates from the presidency on down is nearly done; the ground troops have taken over.

        Tens of thousands of volunteers nationwide — Republican and Democrat — are hunkering down in phone bank bunkers, dial ing voters, fanning out on suburban cul de sacs and inner city streets, ringing doorbells, hanging literature on doorknobs, chatting up voters and pleading with them to show up at the polls Tuesday.

        They are people like Symmes Township trustee Mike Gentry driving along Fields-Ertel Road Saturday afternoon and stopping now and then to pound a Bush-Cheney yard sign into a fellow Republican's lawn; people like Roscoe Fultz of Avondale, helping organize a group of young volunteers on a chilly Saturday morning to go out and knock on doors in an African-American precinct and make a pitch for Al Gore and the Democratic ticket.

        In a presidential election expected to be the closest in 40 years and where at least a dozen states remain too close to call for either the George W. Bush or Al Gore columns Tuesday night, the traditional, grass-roots, get-out-the-vote efforts are even more important than usual.

        “The war is often won on the ground,” said former Ohio House Majority Leader William Mallory Sr. on Saturday, as about 200 volunteers gathered at the Ohio Democratic Coordinated Campaign office in Bond Hill's Swifton Commons. “Now it is a matter of who shows up on Tuesday.”

        The efforts at theoffice, where 23 teams of Democratic volunteers met to get their marching orders and fan out to about 100 heavily Democratic pre cincts, were being duplicated in hundreds of cities in Ohio and around the country Saturday.

        The same goes for the Republicans. Saturday afternoon, dozens of local GOP volunteers gathered at a telemarketing office in Sycamore Township to make phone calls to Republican voters in southwest Ohio, as they have every night since Oct. 23 and will continue to do through Monday night.

        In Ohio, both parties are trying to maximize their turnout - not only for the presidential contest, but for hundreds of down-the-ticket races that could be decided by a relative handful of votes.

        A record 7.5 million Ohioans are registered to vote in this election. Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell estimates that nearly 5.2 million of them - 69 percent - will vote Tuesday. That is a slightly higher percentage than the 68 percent turnout in Ohio in the last presidential election four years ago, but considerably lower than the 77 percent of Ohioans who voted in 1992. The high turnout in 1992 was credited with giving Bill Clinton Ohio's 21 electoral votes that year; the Gore campaign is hoping for similar turnout numbers in 2000.

        More money has been spent this year on get-out-the-vote efforts (“GOTV,” as the parties call them) than in any other election — possibly as much as $100 million nationwide.

        Terry Holt, the national director of Victory 2000, the GOTV arm of the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney campaign, said the GOP will spend close to $50 million zeroing in on its voters in key states and getting them to the polls.

        “This is the time in the campaign where the strategists get out of the way and let the hard-working volunteers win the election,” Mr. Holt said.

        Today's appearance by former First Lady Barbara Bush at Lakota East High School in West Chester Township - a rally that is expected to draw thousands in the heavily Republican area - is a production of Victory 2000.

        Victory 2000, Mr. Holt said, has a presence in 25 “battleground” states, including Ohio and Kentucky.

        In southwest Ohio, the most Republican area of the state and the place where the GOP must roll up huge margins for Bush-Cheney to offset the Democratic vote of northeast Ohio, the GOTV effort has concentrated on phone banks. Anywhere from 50 to 100 volunteers a night have been working out of the Sycamore office.

        On the Democratic side, the GOTV campaign has focused on some of the Democratic party's most loyal voting groups - African-Americans, union members and women.

        The Democrats are operating nightly phone banks in 80 locations around Ohio, making about 10,000 calls to voters each night. In Ohio, thousands of Democratic volunteers have been participating in “human billboards” where they stand on busy street corners and wave signs at motorists. Both parties are also gearing up to provide Election Day transportation to polling places for voters.

        In Ohio, the polls have shown Mr. Bush holding on to a single-digit lead over Mr. Gore for weeks. What Republicans want is to make sure their voters don't become complacent; Democrats are trying to make sure their voters don't get discouraged by the polls and stay home.

        “Polls, that's a bunch of smoke and mirrors,” Mr. Fultz said Saturday as he slapped “Change the World, Vote” stickers on the shirts of young Democratic volunteers. “What matters is who shows up Election Day. That's why we're here.”


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