They’re called “surge voters.”
They’re the thousands of young, mostly minority, first-time voters who went to the polls last year to help Barack Obama win Virginia.
Gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds said Friday that the bloc of more than 500,000 voters is critical to a Democratic win on Tuesday.
“That could be the key in this election,” Mr. Deeds said.
Four years ago, 2 million voters turned out for the gubernatorial election won by Tim Kaine. If the same number of voters head to the polls this year, Mr. Deeds will need some 300,000 surge voters to make up what polls say is a roughly 15-point deficit against Republican Robert F. McDonnell among likely voters.
The Democratic Party of Virginia sent a letter with Mr. Obama’s signature last week to 300,000 voters who voted for the first time in last year’s elections asking them to support Mr. Deeds.
Bob Holsworth, a former public-policy professor who runs the political Web site VirginiaTomorrow.com, said the polls showing Mr. McDonnell ahead are also showing what he referred to as an “enthusiasm gap.”
“So the Democratic strategy at the moment, their plan in the race is to turn out a number of folks who are indifferent or sitting on the sidelines,” he said.
But Democrats are pitted against what Republicans say is their greatest get-out-the-vote effort ever. The Republican plan includes 5,000 volunteers canvassing and making telephone calls across the state through 6:45 p.m. on Election Day, —ending 15 minutes before polls are scheduled to close. Volunteers began working in April, months before the Republican nominating convention and the Democratic primary.
Mr. McDonnell has said he decided not to limit Republican outreach or to discount any voter group, including minorities or those in voter-rich Northern Virginia, which has trended Democratic in recent years. The strategy has had mixed results.
According to a Public Policy Polling survey released late last week, Mr. McDonnell trails among black voters 72 percent to 19 percent.
But the Republican’s efforts in Northern Virginia may pay dividends. Although Mr. McDonnell is unlikely to win the D.C. suburbs, most analysts say he only needs to prevent Mr. Deeds from taking at least 60 percent of the vote to win the election. The poll shows he trails Mr. Deeds in Northern Virginia by a much slimmer margin, 50 percent to 46 percent.
Mr. Holsworth said that if Mr. McDonnell can win 45 percent of the vote in Northern Virginia, “he’ll clearly win.”
“I think part of the McDonnell strategy has been to reduce the Democratic margin, particularly in Fairfax and to fare better in Prince William and Loudoun,” he said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele sent an internal memo Wednesday to Republican governors, senators and members of Congress describing the scope of the party’s effort. The RNC has invested $9.1 million in Virginia alone, with $2.4 million of that being spent on advertisements. He said the grass-roots action in Virginia was greater than the effort last year to get John McCain elected president.
“On the heels of the 2008 election results, this is vital for success,” Mr. Steele said.
Republican Party of Virginia spokesman Tim Murtaugh said that as of last Tuesday, Republicans had made 1.9 million phone calls and knocked on 600,000 doors. Organizers expect to have made a million more telephone calls and to have knocked on a half million more doors, he said.
The Deeds campaign said it signed up hundreds of new volunteers after Mr. Obama’s visit to Norfolk last week. Campaign advisers said 5,000 people were expected to volunteer across the state through the weekend, some coming from neighboring states and colleges as far away as the University of Michigan.
Deeds campaign manager Joe Abbey said that by the end of the weekend, volunteers would have knocked on 175,000 doors. On Tuesday, the campaign expects to knock on 200,000 doors. Over the weekend and through Election Day, Democratic volunteers expect to have made more than 700,000 telephone calls to targeted voters.
Weather, which can discourage voters from going to the polls, is not expected to be a factor. The National Weather Service forecast calls for mild conditions throughout the state.
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