- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006


Democrats hope enthusiasm trumps Republican efficiency in the battle for control of Congress. Otherwise, they concede, they will have problems on Nov. 7 as a party still struggling to catch up with Republicans’ ability to get voters to go to the polls.

“Makes me green with envy,” said Ellen Malcolm, the president of EMILY’s List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights.

Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to knock Republicans from power.

“If the Republicans are less enthused, the independents are breaking our way, and the Democratic base is highly enthused, then we’re in very good shape,” said Karin Johanson, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

For now, at least, polls indicate Democrats have momentum on their side.

Likely voters say they have a low opinion of Congress and favor Democrats over Republicans to control the House and Senate. An Associated Press-Ipsos survey found 47 percent of the Democrats surveyed are angry at the Republican-controlled Congress, while only 15 percent of Republicans surveyed are enthusiastic about their congressional leadership.

As recently as the 1990s, the Democratic Party consistently won the turnout battle, relying on aggressive work by precinct captains and labor leaders in urban areas home to Democratic-base voters.

Republicans started to retool their efforts after 2000, when then-Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, won the popular vote by 543,895 over George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas. Mr. Bush won the electoral vote and the presidency, and his top strategist, Karl Rove, was determined to change how the party turned out voters.

“The Republican Party kind of stared death in the face and said, if we don’t figure out how to do better, we’re going to lose,” said Terry Nelson, the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) deputy chief of staff in 2002 and the Bush campaign’s political director in 2004.

Republicans began compiling information about individuals that is available in public records and in consumer data that they buy from vendors. Voter profiles contain everything from a person’s age, address and voting frequency to their magazine subscriptions, preferred drinks and vehicles owned.

Republicans then can use computer modeling to parse out individual voters in Democratic precincts whose consumer habits indicate they may lean Republican.

In a final push just before an election, volunteers with detailed voter lists make phone calls, knock on doors and send mail to encourage people to vote.

“The Republicans have about a four-year head start on where the Democrats are now,” said Michael McDonald, a Brookings Institution specialist on voter turnout. “The good news for the Democrats: You can catch up pretty quickly.”

Democrats have been scrambling to do just that.

Karen Finney, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, said Chairman Howard Dean has invested $8 million in the party’s voter file this year, committed $12 million to get-out-the-vote efforts and is using the same voter identification and turnout techniques as Republicans in six states.

“The Republicans were further ahead of us last cycle. They just had much better data and were able to do more sophisticated things with it,” Miss Finney said. But this year, she said, “we will have the resources we need to get our voters out.”

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