- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

With Maryland and the District solidly in Sen. John Kerry’s camp and Virginia leaning toward President Bush, political leaders in the region are exporting expertise, money and manpower to battlegrounds like neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania in hopes of making a difference on Nov. 2.

“We have folks every weekend and every day coming in from the surrounding states,” said Don Morabito, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “The surrounding states are pretty well decided, and they’ve come in because they think their states are either solid-Kerry or solid-Bush and they want to work here.”

Virginia, with its 13 electoral votes, has not sent a Democrat to the White House since 1964. The District, with three electoral votes, has never voted Republican. And in Maryland, which has 10 electoral votes, Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

Political heavyweights from each area also have taken their campaigns out of state.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican and friend of the president, will be going to battleground states to drum up support for Mr. Bush, his aides said. Mr. Ehrlich said this summer that the president should not spend time or money in Maryland because it is not competitive.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a black Republican, has been working with the Republican National Committee in several states to help Mr. Bush with outreach to blacks. Mr. Steele has been to Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, all swing states.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, is one of Mr. Kerry’s biggest supporters. He has taken the Kerry campaign message to rural Virginia, a traditionally Republican area he secured to win his own election in 2001. Mr. Warner also has stumped for Mr. Kerry in Missouri, a battleground state.

Mr. Warner appeared on WTOP Radio’s “Ask the Governor” program on Sept. 27 and said it was still possible for Mr. Kerry to win Virginia.

“I’ve never seen the kind of energy in Virginia that’s taking place this year,” he said. “This is going to be a very, very competitive campaign. … Virginia is going to be uphill, but, yes, I think John Kerry can still win Virginia.”

But yesterday, Mr. Kerry’s campaign said it will send two-thirds of its Virginia staff to states the presidential candidate believes are more winnable for him and that are critical to his chances of being elected.

The Associated Press reported that Virginia campaign spokesman Jonathan Beeton said about 20 Kerry staffers from offices around Virginia will leave immediately, many of them for battleground states. Mr. Beeton said that would leave about 10 full-time Kerry campaign workers in Virginia.

Mr. Kerry had stationed about 30 Democratic activists and political professionals across Virginia — a campaign effort no Democrat has matched in the state in years. Four years ago, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore had no paid staff in Virginia, did not make any campaign stops in the state, and purchased no TV advertising time.

Grass-roots volunteers from the region help parties in battlegrounds by phone banking, knocking on doors and registering voters.

Jeffrey Norman, a Northwest resident and member-elect of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, is one of those volunteers.

Mr. Norman, 58, is retired and has the time and money to spend 10 days campaigning for Mr. Kerry in West Virginia.

“I’m going to do whatever they need me to do,” he said. “I just picked the nearest battleground state.”

Mr. Norman said he is looking for others to join him, and noted that the Massachusetts senator’s campaign is encouraging people to leave their solid-Republican “red” states or their solid-Democratic “blue” states for the battlegrounds, dubbed “purple.”

In addition, groups such as D.C. for Democracy have organized weekend trips in rented vans to battlegrounds.

“We will do anything and everything to get the word out,” said Charles Allen of D.C. for Democracy, a political-action committee.

The two-night trips cost about $15 per person, subsidized by small, local fund-raisers.

Under the politics heading of Web site washingtondc.craigslist.org, Democrats tell area residents to hop on the bus to West Virginia to “get W out of office.”

In addition, the Kerry campaign sent out an e-mail before the debates to get volunteers to make phone calls from home to voters in swing states.

Republicans are just as active in the battleground states, where a close election likely will be decided.

Joshua Myers, chairman of the Republican Party in Salem, Va., said there is a “concentrated effort” to get Virginia’s Bush supporters into West Virginia.

“People here feel Bush will most likely carry Virginia, so hopefully we can help the president take West Virginia,” he said. “They are trying to get as many people as they can over [there].”

Nationally, party leaders focused on grass-roots campaigning are welcoming the help.

“We are seeing people cross state lines to participate and volunteer and to be a part of what’s going on in West Virginia,” said Mary Diamond, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee’s efforts in that state. “People know how crucial it is and are really willing to devote their time and energy to make sure President Bush’s message gets out.”

Miss Diamond noted that people are coming from many surrounding states, including Ohio. Some of the efforts are organized, and volunteers come by the busload, while others are more casual, with activists driving across state lines and asking how they can help.

The same is true in Pennsylvania, where people come from Kentucky, New Jersey and Delaware, as well as from Maryland and the District.

The latest poll in Pennsylvania conducted by Strategic Vision, as of Sept. 29, showed Mr. Bush leading Mr. Kerry by three percentage points, within the margin of error. Mr. Gore won the state by four percentage points in 2000.

Montgomery County, Maryland, sends more than 200 volunteers on weekends to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, to knock on doors and register Democratic voters.

“We have a lot of Democrats here who want to be engaged,” said Don Mooers, a Bethesda resident organizing the Pennsylvania effort.

Mr. Mooers said volunteers with his group also help out in competitive congressional races there. “When we put it all together, everything pointed to Montgomery County,” he said.

In addition to volunteering, the West Virginia Democrats are picking up financial support from Democratic states such as New York and California, two states Mr. Kerry is expected to win easily, according to Ashley Harper, director of special projects for the West Virginia Democratic Party.

Mr. Gore lost West Virginia by 17,000 votes in 2000.

The state has registered roughly 16,000 new Democrats and 8,000 new Republicans this year.

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