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Parties Crank Up Voter Turnout Efforts
Strategists sought solace in any survey that looked good, but with less than 48 hours remaining before the polls close on Tuesday, both parties concentrated on direct voter contact, built on months of sophisticated analysis of the electorate and microtargeting of tens of millions of voters around the country.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee expected to spend roughly $25 million on its voter mobilization efforts; the DCCC was set to spend $10 million. The Democratic National Committee has given the other committees about $8 million for get-out-the-vote activities.
The Republican National Committee planned to expend about $30 million on its operations. While that was less than the Democrats, Republicans began with a significant advantage in technology and information, having spent tens of millions in earlier campaigns building voter lists and modeling the electorate. Democrats have tried to create those models this year.
Democratic strategists said privately that overall, there is less money flowing into key states this year than during the 2004 presidential election.
Democrats and Republicans were both counting on help from outside groups. Conservative groups were contacting their supporters, while progressive groups like MoveOn.org and America Votes were turning up their operations. MoveOn.org members made 800,000 phone calls yesterday and plan another 1.2 million each today and Tuesday. Organized labor said it would put 30,000 volunteers on the streets to contact union members.
Both sides boasted about their turnout operations. Democrats said they have signed up one volunteer for every 21 voters in Montana, while Republicans said they directly contacted one in 10 registered voters in that state on Saturday alone.
In Missouri, Democrats planned to contact several hundred thousand "drop-off voters" -- those who vote in presidential but not midterm elections -- and tens of thousands of undecided voters before Tuesday. Republicans were contacting about 200,000 targeted Missouri voters a day.
GOP officials said their biggest concern is the inability to turn out voters in districts they did not originally consider at risk. "We're able to move financial resources, but it's almost impossible to get human resources" into these newly competitive districts, said the GOP strategist.
It was that reality that took Bush to the Plains states yesterday. In heavily Republican districts, aides said, the president could make up for what the NRCC could not do. But Bush's weekend schedule also showed that, because he has less sway with independents, there are many districts where his presence could do as much harm as good.
In another sign of how Bush's market value has fallen, Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said yesterday that he would skip the president's rally in Pensacola this morning. The White House put the Florida stop on Bush's election-eve schedule specifically to promote Crist, only to be embarrassed by his last-minute defection. That will make the most prominent Florida politician appearing at the event Senate candidate Rep. Katherine Harris, who appears headed for a crushing defeat and whom the Bush family has tried to avoid this fall.
Elsewhere, in New Hampshire, Rep. Charles Bass (R) has seen his 20-point lead evaporate in the past five weeks, leaving the RNC with little time to implement even a bare-bones version of its mobilization plan, known as the 72-hour program. "We are not counting on them," said Matt Hagerty, campaign manager for Bass.
Instead, Bass is using an old-fashioned operation that relies on volunteers calling supporters, knocking on their doors and sending out 40,000 e-mails reminding them to vote. "We are running the same operation the congressman has run for the last six cycles," Hagerty said.
The DCCC identified 40 competitive districts in September and has continued to focus on them, rather than trying to build get-out-the-vote operations in some of these districts that have unexpected opportunities. Bass's Democratic challenger, Paul Hodes, is getting strategic advice from the DCCC but is relying mostly on a network of volunteers to turn out voters.
"You cannot buy G.O.T.V.," said Dana Houle, campaign manager for Hodes, referring to get-out-the-vote efforts. "You have to lay the foundation in terms of volunteer recruitment months beforehand."
Turnout operations can affect only races that are decided by a few thousand votes. With this in mind, the Philadelphia suburbs have become a key battleground. Both sides anticipated that the rematch between Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Democrat Lois Murphy could be decided by a percentage point or two, both plowed resources into the race over the summer in preparation for the final 72 hours of the campaign, and both expressed confidence in their operations.
But it is impossible to determine how voters will react. One group of GOP volunteers hit a leafy neighborhood over the weekend to rally support for Gerlach, but they made contact with only five of 73 GOP households they approached.
Activity has been especially intense in Indiana's 2nd District, where Rep. Chris Chocola (R) faces possible defeat by Democrat Joe Donnelly. Republicans said they contacted 124,000 households in recent days -- more than half of all households in the district. One Donnelly canvasser visited so many households in the Logansport area that the local marshal forced him to register as a solicitor.
Contributing to this report were staff writers Peter Baker in Grand Island, Neb.; Charles Babington in St. Louis; Jeffrey Birnbaum in Logansport, Ind.; Juliet Eilperin in Blue Bell, Pa.; and Blaine Harden in Billings, Mont.