Campaigns pull out stops to get voters to polls

Low turnout could lead to some surprises

  • Rob Buck, an AFSCME volunteer, stacks completed lawn signs by the door of the Baltimore County Field Office for Anthony Brown-Ken Ulman at 1840 York Road. Volunteers were putting together lawn signs and working the phone bank.
Rob Buck, an AFSCME volunteer, stacks completed lawn signs… (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun )
June 21, 2014|By Michael Dresser and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's Democratic and Republican contenders for governor are sparing no effort to pull every last supporter to the polls Tuesday in a primary for which many voters aren't ready.

Likely voters can expect a barrage of phone calls and a flood of election-eve mail on behalf of the three Democrats and four Republicans seeking Maryland's top office. Television ads will try to sway the undecided up to the bitter end at least for campaigns that can afford that luxury — but the main focus will be on the ground game.

Candidates for governor and other offices will unleash hordes of campaign volunteers and staff. Democrat Anthony G. Brown's canvassers plan to reach the doors of 200,000 identified supporters, leaving reminders that the primary is Tuesday. Rivals Douglas F. Gansler and Heather R. Mizeur have similar phone or door-knocking blitzes in the works.

On the Republican side, Del. Ron George is sending out 187,000 brochures, timed to land in voters' mailboxes Monday. Front-runner Larry Hogan said his campaign will have called every likely GOP voter — every single one — by Tuesday.

Part of the job is to spread the word that the primary is in June, not September.

"It's amazing how many people don't know an election is going on, even with all the money that's been spent and all the politicians everywhere," Hogan said.

Outside groups are marshaling their forces, too.

Fred Mason, president of the state AFL-CIO, said that if a union member who has been identified as a supporter of an endorsed candidate hasn't voted by midafternoon Tuesday, one of an estimated 1,000 labor volunteers will get in touch.

"We call it 'knock and drag,' " he said.

The Democratic contest features Brown, Gansler and Mizeur. In the GOP race, Hogan, a former Ehrlich administration official, is trying to hold his lead against George, Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Charles County conservative activist Charles Lollar.

Pundits and pollsters forecast a low turnout. If the predictions come true, the races will be all the more unpredictable and the mobilization effort more crucial.

In the final days, what counts is voter-to-voter contact and a massive ground operation to get voters to the polls, said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"It's retail politics, and TV ads don't get out vote," Norris said.

The winners from each party will face off in the general election Nov. 4. Also on the primary ballot is a spirited Democratic primary for Maryland attorney general and many hotly contested races for the General Assembly and at county levels across the state. Congressional representatives are also on the ballot, but no close contests are expected.

A poll conducted for The Baltimore Sun published this month found Brown leading his Democratic rivals by a more than 2-1 margin and Hogan equally dominant in the Republican field. But the same survey found a high number of undecided voters — especially in the lower-budget GOP primary.

Pollster Steve Raabe of OpinionWorks, which conducted the survey for The Sun, said neither front-runner can afford to let up before the polls close. Among the smaller Republican electorate, he said, an effective get-out-the-vote operation could mean as much as 5 to 10 percentage points for a candidate.

Raabe said an upset is less likely on the Democratic side because of Brown's strong support from groups and elected officials that endorsed him. But he cautioned that surprises are possible, especially in low-turnout elections.

"The last thing you want to do if you're ahead in the polls is to be caught sleeping," Raabe said.

Justin Schall, Brown's campaign manager, heartily agreed.

"The only way to run a race is as if there were no tomorrow and to take nothing for granted and to fight for every last vote," Schall said.

Gansler said he's still in the hunt.

"People are still very undecided — and persuadable," he said between campaign stops last week. "In the last minutes — the last days — of the campaign, reaching people still matters."

Mizeur compared her position to that of the Republican challenger who upset the U.S. House majority leader this month.

"If Eric Cantor can lose in Virginia, Heather Mizeur can win in Maryland," she told supporters in Frederick last week.

Despite increased turnout during this year's longer early voting period, the overwhelming majority of voters are expected to cast ballots Tuesday. Only 4.17 percent of the state's nearly 3.4 million eligible primary voters cast ballots during early voting, which ended Thursday. Thus, volunteers for candidates for offices from governor to central committee will be out in force.

Amid the prevailing apathy, which ensures that party nominees are chosen by a small minority of voters, many of those volunteers care deeply about who wins and plan to work tirelessly until the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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