U.S. SENATE RACE
Allen, Webb Camps Shift Focus to Turnout
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
A group of 20-somethings who were huddled around four computers at Democrat James Webb's campaign headquarters in Clarendon yesterday think they hold the key to determining Virginia's next U.S. senator.
The volunteers are extracting data, crunching numbers and directing an estimated 15,000 Webb workers to their "get-out-the-vote" assignments between now and the Nov. 7 election.
"We got computer people who are totally geeked out to get things done," said Josh Chernila, Webb's grass-roots coordinator. "They can drill down by precinct, by age, by area, by congressional district. Whatever I say, the people here can do and direct people to where they need to be."
A few miles away at Allen headquarters near Shirlington, Allen supporters are just as confident their skills will translate into hundreds of thousands of votes for the Republican.
"We certainly know the drill and know what we need to do," said Juanita Balenger, Allen's Fairfax County coordinator, an Allen loyalist since his 1993 bid for governor. "I have certainly built our contacts over the years and know how to reach people through the phone and e-mail."
After weeks of expensive television ads and a fight over character, the close Virginia Senate race could hinge on which candidate does a better job getting his voters to the polls. Each side is amassing an army of supporters who will hit the streets and phone lines over the next week to persuade its supporters to show up Nov. 7.
Many of Webb's supporters, dozens of whom come from out of state, said they were drawn to the campaign by his early opposition to the war in Iraq. They are passionate, though relatively inexperienced in a statewide race.
Webb volunteers will be facing thousands of battle-tested Allen supporters who have been helping him win elections for more than a decade. In past campaigns, Allen referred to them as insurgents. This year, they are more like Allen's offensive line as the former quarterback finds himself in a tighter-than-expected race that could help determine which party controls the Senate.
Allen is relying on a surge of support from social conservatives, sportsmen, veterans and rank-and-file Republicans opposed to taxes from such areas as the Richmond suburbs.
Webb is counting on a large turnout in Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia and among black voters, who make up about 14 percent of the electorate. Webb, a former Marine, is also reaching out to veterans and traditional Democratic voters in smaller cities and towns across the state.
Both parties poured millions of dollars into get-out-the vote efforts in last year's election for governor. Democrats were worried that Timothy M. Kaine would be swamped by Republican Jerry W. Kilgore's turnout operation.
With help from Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, Kilgore had almost 10,000 volunteers working throughout the year to identify 2 million likely GOP voters. But the Democrats at least matched Republicans efforts on Election Day, and Kaine won by 100,000 votes.