The Nation

Campaigns Implore the Party Faithful To Bring Their Loyalty to the Polls

By Michael Grunwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 6, 2006

The season of persuasion is over. This is the season of motivation.

From Nashville, Ind., where Rep. Michael E. Sodrel (R) was urging business owners to help him stop Democrats from seizing the House and raising their taxes, to Nashville, Tenn., where Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) were suggesting to black churchgoers that God wants Ford in the Senate, candidates around the country spent last weekend preaching to their choirs.

In the campaign's final weekend, candidates weren't trying to turn out voters who might not vote their way. They were chasing the "ones and twos," political-junkie shorthand for the most likely supporters on their computer-generated lists, and firing up their volunteers.

President Bush stumped for red-state Republicans in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. Former president Bill Clinton rallied the Democratic base in New Jersey, Michigan, Florida and Maryland.

Republicans warned that if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes speaker, Democrats will impose hippie values on the heartland. Democrats warned that if Bush gets another rubber-stamp Republican Congress, America will "stay the course."

"This is our chance to finally -- finally! -- say no to George W. Bush," House candidate Diane Farrell told a breakfast of Democratic activists yesterday in Norwalk, Conn.

It's too late to raise money, win debates or unveil six-point health-care plans. Now it's time to get out the vote. So at a campaign rally in Blue Bell, Pa., Sen. Rick Santorum was telling Republican diehards to ignore polls showing big leads for his Democratic challenger, Robert P. Casey Jr. "Democrats have polls," he declared. "We have workers at the polls!"

A few minutes later, at a rally with Pelosi and the ubiquitous Obama in Norristown, Pa., Gov. Edward G. Rendell urged the Democratic faithful to ignore those same polls. "The only way we lose is if we ease up," he said.

Meanwhile, at the Owl Cafe in Laurel, Mont., Democratic Senate challenger Jon Tester was telling supporters to play close attention to polls that showed momentum shifting to the GOP incumbent, Sen. Conrad Burns. After leading in polls for months, while Burns was defending his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and making a series of foot-in-mouth blunders, Tester admitted yesterday that the race is now tied and begged the sympathetic diners to get five of their friends to the polls. "If you can do that, you'll have voted five times," he said.

In general, Democrats are trying to exploit widespread disapproval of Bush and the GOP Congress, while Republicans are arguing that Democrats would be worse. So the closing days of the campaign, like the rest of the campaign, have made "The McLaughlin Group" look like "Masterpiece Theatre."

Burns is making "robo-calls" claiming that Tester hasn't bought a hunting license in 15 years. Former representative Baron Hill (D-Ind.) is running ads attacking Sodrel as "Millionaire Mike," as in, "Millionaire Mike voted to cut veterans' benefits while accepting pay raises." Supporters of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) are distributing leaflets with a photo of Farrell under the headline "Coffee Talk with the Taliban," because one board member of one organization that endorsed her favored negotiations over combat in Afghanistan.

"It's tough all around, I'd be lying to say anything else," Connecticut Republican activist Chuck Stango said with a shrug. "You never want to leave any stone unthrown."

Often, those stones are directed at politicians who won't be on the ballots in question. In Ohio, Republicans printed thousands of flyers with grainy black-and-white photos of Pelosi, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), warning that the "Hollywood values" of a Democratic Congress would make America "a haven for terrorists." At a meeting with supporters in Helmsburg, Ind., Sodrel warned that Pelosi "represents San Francisco very well."

"Scary!" one volunteer called out.

But while nasty ads and famous surrogates get the attention, activists expect the midterms to turn on voter outreach -- knocking on doors and working the phones. In 2002 and 2004, Republicans dominated the ground game, and they hope that will save them in 2006. "There's no secret to how I will win," Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.) told a crowd of campaign workers crowded into a Waterbury storefront. "Three words: work, work, work."

Of course, reaching voters is not the same as mobilizing them, and Republicans are clearly nervous that the current political climate will keep their base home. In Missouri, one of numerous states where Obama was pumping up Democrats yesterday, Republicans were so desperate to find ones and twos that they risked calling voters while the Kansas City Chiefs were playing the St. Louis Rams.

In Ohio, they recruited door-knockers from a temp agency for $12 an hour. They gave Bush a raucous reception at his "Victory in the Heartland" rally yesterday in Grand Island, Neb., but even in friendly territory, they didn't fill the hall.

Still, turnout is a relative thing. You don't need to turn out everyone -- just more than your opponent.

"If we get out the ones and twos," Indiana Republican activist R. Dale Cassiday told a group of Sodrel's campaign workers, "we'll win this election."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company