- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Republicans, Democrats and unions are spending tens of millions of dollars on an unprecedented voter-turnout drive that will likely be the deciding factor in one of the closest midterm elections in U.S. history.

Both parties say they will devote more resources than ever to boost turnout on Nov. 5. Much of it will be targeted in politically pivotal, close races where just a few hundred or a few thousand votes could determine who controls Congress for the next two years.

"We've been focused on our turnout operations for the better part of two years. I think you are going to see the most organized and the best Republican turnout operation in history," said Steve Schmidt, chief spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The Democratic National Committee has been working since the 2000 election on improving its ground operation, which will focus on maintaining the party's one-seat hold in the Senate while pursuing seven seats to gain control of the House.

"We will literally have hundreds of thousands of people on the ground across the country. If you include organized labor, it could be close to one million. The Democratic National Committee is putting an unprecedented amount of money into this," said Maria Cardona, the DNC's spokeswoman.

The DNC, for example, has just sent a team of veteran voter-turnout specialists into Florida to help Democrat Bill McBride, who is in a virtual tie with Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. Headed by veteran Democratic operative Nick Baldick, its chief mission is to boost minority voter turnout.

The Democrats' richest political ally, the AFL-CIO, is spending $35 million, over and above what individual unions are spending, on a massive grass-roots mobilization drive. In the next two weeks, it will distribute 15 million pieces of Democratic literature as part of a nationwide, door-to-door, telephone and mailing operation.

In addition, the AFL-CIO will dispatch 750 paid staffers, 4,000 local union coordinators and thousands or rank-and-file labor volunteers to help turn out the vote for the Democrats.

"We are outperforming every other Democratic turnout campaign. That's the goal we are shooting for," said Denise Cook, political director of the AFL-CIO in Michigan, one of the most heavily unionized states in the country.

For the first time, the Michigan AFL-CIO cross-matched voter registration lists with union membership lists to find out who needed to be registered.

"We're getting a lot more high-tech and it's working. We told our people here are your members who are not registered to vote, here's where they live, go find them. That's been going on for the last six months," Miss Cook said.

On the Republican side, the RNC has been road testing various get-out-the-vote tools to find out what works and what doesn't. The result of those two-year efforts will be its "72-Hour Task Force" where the GOP is foregoing much of the paid staff operations they have used in previous elections and using thousands of committed party volunteers instead.

"We really haven't done anything like this before on election days. We're going door-to-door, we have volunteers calling to get them out to vote. In some states we will have people checking to see who voted and who hasn't so people can get them to the polls," said Blaise Hazelwood, the RNC's political director.

In addition to the GOP's national voter-turnout drive, House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas has organized a special congressional initiative to send thousands of volunteers into the House's most competitive districts.

Called STOMP, which stands for Strategic Taskforce On Organizing and Mobilizing People, it will move busloads of volunteers from safe congressional districts to adjoining districts where the races are tight. About 30 to 40 battleground races have been targeted.

"DeLay feels that Republicans have become too reliant on paid phone banks, paid mailings, and paid TV, and that we can't forget about shoe leather and knocking on doors," said Stuart Roy, his spokesman.

Turnout experts yesterday said there are signs that voters are not as energized this year and that many Democratic voters, especially minorities, are disenchanted with their leadership over issues such as going to war in Iraq.

Only 35.3 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in 1998, and election analyst Curtis Gans predicts this year's turnout could be anywhere from 34 percent to 37 percent.

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