- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2004

Sen. John Kerry has yet to establish campaign organizations in battleground states that likely will decide who wins the presidential race in November, Democratic strategists said yesterday.

The Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign has been almost invisible not only in pivotal states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, but also in the South, a region that some party strategists fear he will “write off” to focus his resources elsewhere in the country, according to Democratic officials.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign apparatus is nowhere to be seen in Michigan, a critical Midwestern prize with 17 electoral votes that Democrat Al Gore captured in 2000, but is now a neck-and-neck race where President Bush has the edge in some polls, Democrats say.

“It’s dead even here but there is almost no activity in the state” from Mr. Kerry’s campaign organization, said Michigan Democratic pollster Ed Sarpolus.

The lack of a Kerry ground organization at this point is in sharp contrast to Mr. Bush’s campaign, which has a state-by-state pyramidal organization of precinct, county, state and regional volunteers that already number in the hundreds of thousands across the country.

“I spoke at a Lincoln Day dinner in the northwest corner of Michigan Saturday night, where there was a Bush operative who said he was one of nine in Michigan. I was stunned. I’m wondering if the Bush people are too geared up and should save their resources for a better time,” said Michigan election analyst Bill Ballenger.

In Pennsylvania, whose 21 electoral votes Mr. Gore won, the Massachusetts senator has not decided who will manage his state campaign operations there.

“I understand that Kerry is still putting his team together. That will take time to work out,” said Don Morabito, the party’s state executive director and a campaign veteran.

Mr. Bush, who saturated Pennsylvania’s major media markets with TV ads in the past month that turned a likely Democratic prize into a tossup state, has visited the state 27 times in the past three years. Mr. Kerry’s first extended campaigning there began in the past two weeks.

Mr. Morabito says “there is still time” to put an organization together, “but we need to get started. It’s a big state and needs a lot of organizing.”

Still, he says there has been little, if any, organizing out of Kerry headquarters in the past month.

“We talk to [Kerry’s campaign] virtually every day, but it’s more event-to-event planning than organizing on the ground,” he said, adding that the state party has been working on its own voter registration and get-out-the-vote operation.

Although Democrats at the local level wait for Mr. Kerry to begin putting his campaign organization together, other independent activist organizations have been mounting their own door-to-door canvassing operations and voter-registration drives on his behalf.

New liberal activist groups such as America Coming Together (ACT), bankrolled with large, unregulated, “soft money” campaign contributions under section 527 of the IRS code, have been campaigning in battleground states. But unlike Mr. Bush’s army of unpaid volunteers, ACT’s canvassers are paid $8 an hour to sign up Kerry voters.

Organized labor also is expected to deploy thousands of union members in behalf of Mr. Kerry’s candidacy in phone banks and voter-turnout drives.

Nevertheless, Democrats say Mr. Kerry has a lot of organizing to do if he is to match the operation the Bush campaign has been putting together for nearly a year.

“I have not heard of a great deal of organizing [in the South] thus far, no,” said North Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Barbara Allen, who also is the Southern representative on the Democratic National Committee’s executive committee.

“I have not heard much [from the Kerry camp] up to this point. People have not seen a lot of him in this area. He has not been in our state,” she said.

Mrs. Allen, like most other Southern Democratic officials, think the Democrats have a chance of winning a few Southern states if Mr. Kerry chooses North Carolina Sen. John Edwards for his running mate.

“Without Edwards, it depends on how much effort Kerry puts in North Carolina or any of the Southern states,” she said

Mr. Bush, who won every Southern state in 2000, carried North Carolina with 56 percent of the vote.

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