As elections near, voter outreach intensifies

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Monday, November 1, 2010

Candidates and their supporters launched their last round of ads, door knocks, calls and pleas over the weekend, as Republicans made their final push to take over Congress and Democrats did all they could to try to hang on to it.

The Democratical National Committee announced Sunday that it would send $3 million to state parties around the country, largely to try to sway a number of too-close-to-call Senate races that could determine the balance of power in that chamber.

Much of that money was aimed at defending Democratic turf, including $100,000 that went to Massachusetts, where Republicans are trying to gain two House seats and the governor's mansion in Tuesday's midterm elections.

But in a sign of how volatile races remain in the final hours, Democrats also started airing ads over the weekend in Alaska. Party leaders there think Scott McAdams could win the Senate race over GOP nominee Joe Miller and incumbent Lisa Murkowski, who is running a write-in campaign after losing in the GOP primary.

Organizing for America, the Democratic grass-roots group formed after the 2008 campaign to keep Barack Obama supporters active in politics, said it planned to make more than 10 million contacts on the phone or in person with voters in the week before the election.

Republican Party efforts were bolstered by groups affiliated with the conservative tea party movement, whose supporters from across the country called into states with tight races to try to rally votes.

For Democrats, turnout isn't just important: It could be the only way to save themselves from a rout. Experts say the Democratic turnout operation cannot just match what the GOP does; it will probably have to exceed it. Many Republicans, angry about Obama and Democrats in Congress, are fired up to vote, regardless of whether they are called and encouraged to do so by GOP volunteers.

Many Democrats, meanwhile, lack the enthusiasm of the 2008 elections, according to polls.

"The question is whether [Republican] motivation is going to win the day or the Democratic mobilization," said Michael McDonald, a government professor at George Mason University who studies voting patterns.

Beyond the bad economy and apparent unpopularity of Democrats in Congress, Democrats face one other major challenge: People who vote in midterm elections are more likely to be white and are generally older than the electorate in presidential elections. This is a particular concern for the Democrats in the Obama era, as the party's victories in 2008 were aided by strong turnout among blacks, Latinos and voters under age 30.

Early voting is key

Democrats are confident that their efforts will get Obama supporters to the polls on Tuesday, and they cite the results of early voting in states such as Nevada, which have shown voter turnout for Democrats equal or higher than that of the GOP. Early voting efforts and absentee ballots could be a major factor, as an estimated 40 percent of voters will vote before Tuesday.

Democrats are relying on their Washington-led party operations, along with labor unions, who have long aided Democrats. The AFL-CIO is planning to send more than 10 million pieces of mail to voters this week and to knock on the doors of 4 million voters.

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