Race's focus turns to turnout

Ehrlich, Townsend rally supporters in last week

Get-out-the-vote campaign

Democrats hone practice

GOP crafts its own effort

Election 2002

October 29, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

For Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., this last week of the campaign is all about one thing: making sure supporters hit the voting booths on Election Day.

With polls since mid-July showing a tie between the leading candidates for governor, both campaigns say the crusade to get out the vote will be more important than ever.

"The two or three critical weeks before a major election are essential," said pollster Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research in Bethesda. "In a close campaign, it's the time when voters have to be motivated to go to the polls, and it's especially essential for Democrats."

Democrats are hoping to repeat their effective voter-turnout effort of 1998, when polls showed Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey tied with about 10 days to go. Glendening won by about 10 percentage points, and a huge Election Day voter surge is credited with his margin of victory.

One potential impediment to Election Day turnout appears to have been eliminated with the arrest last week of the two men said to be responsible for the series of Washington suburban sniper shootings.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties are viewed as crucial to Townsend's strategy of maximizing turnout in Maryland's three large, heavily Democratic jurisdictions. Campaign officials had worried that a continuing sniper threat might have kept some voters away from the polls.

Although Democrats have perfected get-out-the-vote campaign techniques during the past several national and statewide elections, this year may mark something of a change in Maryland party politics. Republicans are trying to craft their own efforts to ensure Ehrlich supporters vote.

"Traditionally, [Democrats] have been better at doing that, at getting their voters out to the polls," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll County Republican who is the Ehrlich campaign's political director. "Since May, we've been putting together our ground campaign to compete."

`Going to do well'

In recent weeks, GOP volunteers have been operating phone banks, reminding registered Republicans to support Ehrlich on Election Day. Teams have been walking through neighborhoods, dropping off literature and knocking on doors to chat with voters.

"Part of our get-out-the-vote is to focus on Democrats in our suburban areas where we're doing so well," Ehrlich said. "We're not just targeted to Republicans. We're going to do well in the suburbs around Baltimore, and we need to get them out to vote."

Yet the GOP seems unlikely to match the detail of the plans developed by Democrats, who expect thousands of volunteers to work in the final days of the campaign and on Election Day.

"We are doing everything we have to do to get every one of our voters to the polls," said Karen White, who is overseeing the voter turnout effort for Townsend. "In 1998, we had the best, massive get-out-the-vote effort this state has ever seen, and you're going to see the same thing for Kathleen."

Democratic rallies have become more frequent, including a visit this month by former President Bill Clinton at Coppin State College.

At Baltimore City Community College's Liberty Heights Avenue campus last week, Def Jam records label founder Russell Simmons joined Del. Howard P. Rawlings and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings in urging more than 200 students to vote -- and to vote for Townsend.

"If you have any idea what the alternative to Kathleen Kennedy is, you'll rush out and vote," Simmons told the cheering students, referring to Ehrlich. "If you don't vote, you can't complain. If you don't vote, you're responsible for putting that man in office."

While the rallies hit large groups, both campaigns also focus on individual voter contacts, often more than once in the days approaching Nov. 5.

A draft of the Democratic Party's coordinated campaign schedule calls for 47,000 African-American households in Baltimore to receive four mailings, three automated calls and one live phone call by Election Day. The cost is estimated at $22,000. To further boost turnout, the campaign has identified almost 28,000 African-American city households that have tended to vote only in presidential elections. Those homes will receive additional attention from the campaign -- two more mailings, two more automated phone calls and one more live phone call. That will add about $11,500. Recorded phone messages are sure to include such Democrats as Clinton and Cummings, popular figures among Baltimore Democrats.

Similar contact schedules are set for voters in the state's other major Democratic jurisdictions, Montgomery and Prince George's.

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