At the 11 a.m. service of a historic black church in Charlotte, the congregation read the sixth chapter of Ephesians: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
Then, the leaders at St. Paul Baptist made a not-very-subtle shift from talking about the eternal battle between Good and Evil to talking about Tuesday’s battle between Democrats and Republicans.
“Raise your hand if you can give at least one hour of your time to assist people who need to vote,” instructed Thomas Falls, one of the worship leaders. In the congregation, dozens of hands shot up.
“One hour. Who has one hour?” Falls said as church ushers fanned out, handing instruction sheets to the volunteers. “One hour before breakfast? One hour at lunch? How about an hour after work?”
The message at this church was officially nonpartisan — the congregation was only told to vote, not whom to vote for. But black turnout is vital to the hopes of Democrats such as Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina who are struggling to hold their seats on Election Day.
Having failed to win the first 600 or so days of this sour, surly midterm campaign, Democrats and their allies are trying desperately to win the last three. The effort here was part of a furious last-minute effort by Democrats and their allies to urge their supporters to go to the polls and keep the Senate from slipping away to the Republicans.
The time for changing minds was essentially over, and for Democrats, it hadn’t gone that well. Polls show that their party is in grave danger of losing control of the Senate. Now, in the final days, Democrats began to focus on turnout — the last great hope of the electoral underdog.
Volunteers and allies knocked on doors, pleaded on phones and preached from pulpits to bring their voters to the polls. Republicans, sensing victory, made their own push, arming volunteers with iPads to target their best voters.
In Colorado, one Democratic candidate wore a button that said “VOTE OR DIE!” It felt like that.
Already, 17 million people have cast early votes. The Democrats’ hope is that a truly exceptional get-out-the-vote operation can still save a series of middling Senate candidates who had not been able to save themselves so far.
“If we get our voters out, we win,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), stating the painfully obvious to a room full of volunteers in Portsmouth, N.H., as they prepared to knock on doors for her in the cold November rain.
“If we don’t,” Shaheen told the soon-to-be-soaked group, “we lose.”
Among Republicans, this weekend was also a time for turning out votes as a long-sought victory seemed closer than ever.
There are 13 Senate seats that might flip from one party to the other on Tuesday. Of those, Republicans need to keep three and gain six more currently held by Democrats, or some combination of the two. At least three current Democratic seats already appear to be in the bag for Republicans: West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota.
That leaves 10 states where Democrats still have at least a chance, however minuscule. One of those states is Alaska, where the reelection campaign of Sen. Mark Begich (D) has made an unprecedented push to win votes in far-flung villages, including those dominated by Alaska Natives.
This weekend, Begich worker Meaghan Cavanaugh was in a relatively urban city of Seward, population 2,700. She trudged up Resurrection Boulevard, a grand name for a muddy dirt road, to the house of Juan Baquera.
“I’m not into the politics thing too much,” Baquera told her. But, crucially, he wants to listen: “If you can tell me about somebody, I guess. I usually vote Democratic.”
Cavanaugh outlined some of the differences between Begich and his Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan. She said that Begich was against the proposed Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper operation that could affect the salmon population in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
After five minutes of chatting, Baquera asked for a leaflet and headed back inside. He was marked down as a potential Begich voter.
More than 4,000 miles away, Democrats in Southern states spent Sunday visiting majority-black churches, where ministers and guest speakers pressed the congregations to vote. On the pulpit of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, senior pastor Raphael G. Warnock asked: “Who has voted already?”
At the 8 a.m. service on Sunday, more than half of the congregation stood up.
“Call five people and get them out to vote,” Warnock said. “Pick up the phone and call your friends. Put it on your Facebook or Twitter account. Stop taking pictures of what you’re eating — nobody cares. Instead, take a picture of your voting sticker.”
Elsewhere in Atlanta, some groups invoked the 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., this summer. “Mike Brown can’t vote,” said stickers being distributed to some voters. “But I can.”
In Louisiana, the black vote is vital to the Democrats’ long-shot hopes to hold the seat occupied by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), who is running for her fourth term against two main Republican candidates and six others. If no candidate gets 50 percent on Election Day, the race will go to a runoff that polling suggests Landrieu is likely to lose.
So Landrieu’s campaign has focused on turning out black voters Tuesday through a blitz of radio ads; appeals to the black community from Landrieu’s brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D); and an appearance at Southern University’s homecoming, where the senator danced the “Wobble.”
“The path to victory for Landrieu would just have to be an astronomical black turnout, the likes of which we’ve never seen in Louisiana or even in the South,” Jeremy Alford, publisher and editor of the independent Web site LaPolitics.
On the Republican side in Iowa, canvassers in suburban Des Moines were armed with iPads filled with house-by-house data that updates each day.
Jack Hellie and Patrick McCaffrey, both 19, walked up to one house in Urbandale that the tablet told them was “hard” Republican.
The man who answered the door said he was, indeed, going to vote for Republican incumbent Terry Branstad in the Iowa governor’s race. But he wasn’t sure about the rest of the GOP ticket, including Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, who leads Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) in recent polling.
“Is there any issue that’s holding you back?” Hellie asked.
The man said he just wasn’t sure about her.
“That’s surprising, because we have him down as a hard Republican,” Hellie said as he walked away. “Oh, well, I’m sure he’ll vote for Joni.”
For Republicans in several states, there has been good news from the voters who have already turned out — mailing in their ballots or voting early in person.
In Iowa, for example, Democrats outnumber Republicans by only 6,800 among early voters — a sharp decline in their advantage compared with 2012.
Republicans have also done unusually well in early voting in Colorado. As of Oct. 31, about 41 percent of 1.1 million ballots came from registered Republicans, 32 percent came from Democrats and 25 percent came from voters not affiliated with either party.
Both sides have been making a major push to get voters to the polls as early as possible, reminding those in far-flung locales that at this point, they should just vote in person. If they rely on the mail, the ballot may arrive too late.
“Who hasn’t voted? Now it’s peer pressure time. You know who they are. Get their names. We need your votes,” Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner told a crowd this week.
As an independent who has yet to decide which party he will caucus with, Orman’s political “ground game” had to be built from the ground up.
Orman has gathered more than 800 volunteers who are based out of three official campaign field offices and some supporters’ homes.
The ground game for Orman is focused on turning out unaffiliated voters. Orman volunteer Jade Lane, a 30-year-old veteran and college student, was canvassing for votes in Shawnee, Kan., over the weekend with his wife, Meghan. Armed with a paper map and door hangers, they visited homes where the voter file said Orman supporters might live.
One resident said of Orman, “Don’t know much about him.”
The volunteers handed over some information on Orman’s candidacy and rattled off some positions.
“Cool — sounds good!” the man said with a smile.
That wasn’t exactly a “yes” for Orman, but the volunteers left it at that.
“All right, well, thank you for voting!” Lane said. “Appreciate it.”
Fahrenthold reported from Washington, Lowery from Charlotte and Izadi from Shawnee, Kan. Sebastian Payne in Seward, Alaska; Katie Zezima in Denver; Ed O’Keefe in Atlanta; Jose DelReal in Portsmouth, N.H.; Karen Heller in New Orleans; Ben Terris in Urbandale, Iowa; Paul Kane in Louisville; and Hunter Schwartz in Texarkana, Ark., contributed to this report.