- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign is convinced that it has sufficiently outflanked John Kerry in grass-roots political organization in key battleground states, a tactic that is traditionally the deciding factor for Democrats.

The Republicans say that they have worked to organize not only down to the county level, but to the individual voting precinct — a specialty of the Democrats’ union-driven get-out-the-vote efforts. As of last week, the Bush team has put campaign chairmen in place in 94 percent of targeted precincts around the country.

In the swing states, the effort is even more intense.

More than 13,000 volunteers are at work in Oregon, the highest number of Republicans ever in that normally Democratic-leaning state, which is considered in play this year.

More than 46,000 volunteers are at work in Michigan, another key state, and more than 32,000 volunteers are lined up in Missouri, with every one of the party’s target precincts having long enjoyed the leadership of a campaign chairman.

The party has seen similar grass-roots efforts bear fruit in other key states around the country.

“One of the advantages we have is that the president has millions of supporters all around the country,” said Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman. “I believe that a good grass-roots effort is one that provides those supporters with the tools they need to share their support with their neighbors.”

Republicans felt they had a good head start this year on the Kerry campaign in organizing a ground strategy. Several weeks after Mr. Kerry had wrapped up the Democratic nomination, he had still not filled up many county chairmen positions in key battleground states.

But that gap has been largely made up — thanks in large part to liberal “527” groups, which have been agitating for Kerry’s election for months.

Those “527” organizations — so-called because of the section of the tax code that grants them tax-exempt status — have spent $125 million in more than a dozen battleground states.

One of the most active groups is America Coming Together, which sends at least a handful of staffers to most Bush campaign events.

ACT says that in 15 swing states, its 1,500 activists knock on doors every evening in a canvassing effort that uses e-mails and PalmPilots to great effect.

With such efforts added to the troops provided by the country’s labor unions — which are solidly in Kerry’s camp — the Democrats can play catch-up in a hurry.

“We have the biggest grassroots campaign yet,” said Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade.

A Republican staffer close to the Bush campaign, however, said he is not impressed with this year’s version of the Democratic political machine.

“The reality is that these guys don’t have a real organization,” the staffer said. “They rely on the 527s and the unions and all that stuff. We’ve got about 6 million activists and 2 million donors. I’d say that’s better.”

Mr. Mehlman said he’s somewhat concerned about the potential of the 527s to change the dynamics of the race, but thinks Republican efforts on the ground will neutralize the millions spent by the liberal groups.

As proof, he pointed to the 2002 midterm congressional race, when Republicans mounted a “72-hour campaign” before election day and the Republican Party proved for the first time in recent memory that it could hit the streets and turn out voters on par with Democrats.

“In the 17 closest states in 2004, we have the kind of organization you’d expect to find in a governor’s race, not a presidential race,” Mr. Mehlman said. “The most effective endorsement you can get is not someone talking on TV, but by a neighbor walking up to you and saying, ‘Here’s why I support George W. Bush.’”

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