State lines are no barrier for Maryland campaigners

Election 2004

10 days until Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 2

October 23, 2004|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Six months ago, Robin Pickering, a technical writer in Catonsville, was hardly a political mover and shaker. But now she moves more Marylanders in the name of politics than just about anyone else.

A spark of curiosity in the spring about how she might be able to help John Kerry's presidential campaign has ballooned unpredictably into Pickering's arranging for hundreds of Marylanders to cross state borders every weekend to campaign in neighboring battleground states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Pickering's efforts are among the most intense, but people from all corners of Maryland are heading to places such as Martinsburg, W.Va., and York, Pa., by the carload, busload or alone. They're knocking on doors and making calls, handing out literature and waving from busy intersections in an effort to ensure that their guy wins the presidency.

The guy for Pickering and most of Maryland's swing state campaigners is John Kerry. Maryland's Bush supporters are largely staying put, hoping the extra push on the home turf can turn the tide in a state that by electing a Republican governor in 2002 has shown that it's open to change. Democrats are confident that Maryland, historically theirs, won't miss them much.

Marylanders are joining thousands of pro-Kerry swing state campaigners nationally, many of them working with pro-Democratic organizations such as Americans Coming Together (ACT), MoveOn.org and Driving Votes, a group whose sole purpose is sending out-of-state volunteers to swing states.

The outcome of this election probably rests with the swing states, particularly those such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida that have large numbers of electoral votes.

In 2000, Bush took Ohio with 52 percent of the vote, Al Gore won with 51 percent in Pennsylvania, and Bush won a razor-thin victory in Florida. Polls find the race neck and neck in all of those states, so both parties want every available body there.

Ray Mann, who coordinates the traveling Kerry campaign efforts in Pennsylvania, says the extra help could make the difference on Election Day, Nov. 2. "Every call, every door knocked, every pamphlet handed out will be significant in this race," he says.

It's impossible to put an exact figure on the number of Marylanders involved, but it's easily in the thousands. Hundreds are taking part in this weekend's activities.

Easy access

Part of the draw is how easy it is. In western cities such as Hagerstown, it's a few minutes to either the eastern panhandle of West Virginia or to southern Pennsylvania. York, Pa., is a straight shot up Interstate 83 from Baltimore, less than an hour's drive. And Ohio, the destination for some groups, is about five hours away by car.

Michael Day of Hagerstown and Dan Rupli of Frederick have worked hard in recent weeks, shuttling hundreds of Kerry supporters from Western Maryland into West Virginia's eastern panhandle.

Although West Virginia has only five electoral votes, Democrats consider it a slap in the face that the traditionally Democratic state went for Bush in 2000. Last weekend, Day had about 140 people going door to door in Charles Town. The weekend before, 110 people were in Martinsburg.

This week, the trips are being made nightly. Kerry and President Bush are nearly even in polls in West Virginia, and that has motivated many Marylanders to help, says Day, who quit his information technology job at the Community and Technical College of Shepherd in Shepherdstown, W.Va., to work full time on the campaign.

Rupli, an attorney and longtime political activist, says he has lost track of how many times he has crossed the border to campaign. When he and the others go, they like to "blend into the wallpaper," not necessarily identifying themselves as Marylanders.

He wears his "Sportsmen for Kerry" button to assure people that despite Kerry's monied, Northeastern upbringing, West Virginians know that he hunts and fishes, as many of them do.

When Rupli talks about issues, he emphasizes the ones that matter to the blue-collar region, money and jobs. And he makes it as unfussy as possible.

"The way you present it might change a little bit when you're out in the hills," he says, adding that he likes to say, "'Trickle-down economics is a lot like feeding the birds by loading more oats in the horse.' I'm not inclined to say it that way in Bethesda."

The Bethesda contingent is taking its message to Pennsylvania most weekends, an effort it calls Montgomery to Montgomery, heading from the suburban Washington county with that name to the one outside Philadelphia.

Longtime Bethesda Democrat Don Mooers leads the Montgomery trips, the idea for which, he notes, has been used by Kerry supporters in Levittown, N.Y. (to Levittown, Pa.) and Westchester, N.Y. (to West Chester, Pa.).

About 200 people have joined the Montgomery missions this fall, and this weekend 500 are set to go.

"If this makes a difference, if Kerry wins the presidency, we can all smile to ourselves and say we played at least a small role," Mooers says.

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