By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
RICHMOND, Oct. 21 -- Virginia Republicans and Democrats are getting ready to spend unprecedented amounts of money for the final 10-day push to turn out voters for the Nov. 4 election as both presidential candidates hope the commonwealth will help them secure the White House.
In campaign finance reports filed Tuesday, the Virginia Democratic Party's coordinated campaign said it has spent $6.1 million so far this year, including $2.5 million last month, on priming its efforts to turn out voters for presidential nominee Barack Obama and Democratic congressional candidates.
The state party had $1.3 million in its federal account as of Sept. 31, but that figure has likely swelled since then as donations continue to pour in from across the country.
"This is by the far the largest field operation we have ever seen in Virginia," said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Virginia Democrats have been outspending the state GOP in Virginia all year on get-out-the-vote efforts, but there are signs that is about to change.
The Republican Party of Virginia had $156,000 in its federal account as of Sept. 30. But state GOP chairman Jeffrey M. Frederick said the Republican National Committee has just transferred more than $3 million to the state party to help finance get-out-the-vote efforts for presidential nominee John McCain and local candidates.
"We are going to put every resource we can into winning Virginia," said Katie Wright, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, which has $77 million in the bank and is also spending millions on mailers, robo-calls and other advertisements targeting Virginia voters.
The spending by both sides on get-out-the-vote efforts does not take into account the money senators Obama (Ill.) and McCain (Ariz.) are using to saturate the airwaves with television ads. Obama has been outspending McCain by 4 to 1 on local network television ads.
But former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, a co-chair of McCain's Virginia campaign, said Republicans plan to spend "at least 10 times as much" during the final days of the campaign this year than they did in 2004, when President Bush was comfortably ahead in the polls heading into Election Day.
"The ground war is going to be so intense this year," Kilgore said. "The phone calling, the door knocking, everything is so much more."
Despite the recent infusion of cash for the state party, Virginia Republicans concede they will likely be outspent by Obama and the Democratic National Committee when it comes to getting out the vote.
The Obama campaign reported on Sunday it had raised a record $150 million in September and had $133 million in the bank. The Obama campaign transferred just under $1 million to the state Democratic Party's coordinated campaign last month.
"They didn't take federal matching funds, so they have almost no restrictions on what they can spend," Frederick said. "So they have the freedom in how they execute their strategy. For us it's a lot more complicated."
The bulk of the state Democratic Party's spending goes toward the salaries of the 266 staffers and field organizers that Obama has deployed to Virginia. The state Democratic Party is spending more than $500,000 each month in salaries, which is likely a record for a statewide campaign in Virginia.
The party also spent several hundred thousand dollars last month on direct mail. Some Virginia voters report receiving up to four pieces of mail each week in the past month from the state party in support of Obama.
Virginia Democrats appear to be sparing little expense when it comes to Obama literature.
Last week, Obama's Richmond office was cluttered with tens of thousands of copies of a 24-page, full-color brochure, explaining Obama's life story, his policy positions as well as a section rebutting rumors about his patriotism.
The McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee are responding with mailers, including one that says, "Barack Obama Thinks Terrorists Just Need a Good Talking To."
Until now, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's (D) 2005 get-out-the vote effort was the most comprehensive -- and expensive -- program of its kind for a statewide candidate. That effort cost the state Democratic Party about $4.5 million.
"This is building off that," said Susan Swecker, a Democratic strategist involved in the party's 2005 effort. "We are learning what works and what doesn't and we are not repeating the same mistakes over and over again, thinking we will get a different result."
But Swecker cautions that both political parties may find out this year that throwing more money at a campaign has its limits.
"I have never had the luxury of being in a campaign where there was too much money, but I do think you probably reach a point where anything else is just icing on the cake," Swecker said.
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.