In Last Push, Both Parties Have Same Focus: Turnout

By Tim Craig and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 2, 2007

RICHMOND, Nov. 1 -- Hundreds of party activists from other states are planning to join Democratic and Republican workers in Virginia this weekend to help get out the vote in Tuesday's state legislative election, an effort that some officials describe as the first battle of next year's presidential and U.S. Senate races.

The most expensive General Assembly campaign in history, and one of the most negative, is now shifting to the all-important ground game, in which both parties are trying to get their supporters out to the polls in what is traditionally a low-turnout legislative election.

Virginia Republicans, seeking to maintain control of the General Assembly, are trying to match a sophisticated Democratic get-out-the-vote effort. Republicans are busing in volunteers from as far away as Texas, while the Maryland Democratic Party sent out an urgent e-mail Thursday looking for volunteers to send to Virginia this weekend.

"It's an 'all-hands-on-deck' type of thing," said John H. Hager, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.

Republicans and Democrats say they view Tuesday's election as a key test of GOP resiliency after the Republicans lost two successive governor's races and last year's U.S. Senate race. And with signs that Virginia's 13 electoral votes could be up for grabs in next year's presidential race, the national party committees are sending people and money to Virginia to test turnout strategies they plan to deploy nationwide in 2008.

"A win in Virginia will send a powerful message around the nation about next year and the outcome of the 2008 elections," Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said while soliciting Democratic volunteers to help get out the vote.

Nationally, Republicans have been widely credited for having a better get-out-the-vote effort, known as the 72-hour plan, that President Bush used to win the White House, easily carrying Virginia both times. In an election such as Tuesday's, in which turnout is traditionally low, GOP leaders say several of their candidates will have an advantage because they can mobilize conservatives to come to the polls.

But in recent state elections, officials in both parties say Democrats have controlled the ground game.

J. Kenneth Klinge, a longtime GOP strategist from Fairfax County, said Republicans no longer "know where their voters are," especially in vote-rich Northern Virginia.

"They died," he said of GOP voters. "They moved away. They got old. They got discouraged because the party turned into something they didn't enjoy very much."

Democrats have been perfecting their turnout strategy since 2000, when Mark R. Warner (D) sent paid staff into neighborhoods seeking voters sympathetic to the Democratic message as he prepared to run for governor in 2001.

Warner spent $3.5 million canvassing 2.4 million households to identify who his campaign could count on come Election Day.

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