Parties making last-minute push

Sunday, November 5, 2006
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com State rep. Nathan Cooper, right, visited Leonard Vogel while campaigning door to door in Cape Girardeau on Friday.

By TJ GREANEY

Southeast Missourian

In the last hours before the Nov. 7 midterm election, Democrat and Republican officials believe there is still time for races to be won or lost.

"Missouri is a swing state. Missouri's margins are so small that this makes the difference. It made the difference in 2004, and it will make the difference in 2006," said Josh Haynes, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.

But Haynes said his party's strategy at this late point in the game is strictly to get out conservative voters, not sway hearts or minds of those who lean left.

"If we call a Democratic voter at this point, we've made a mistake," Haynes said.

For their part, Democrats say they've learned from past mistakes and will not underestimate the importance of rural communities.

"This is the most aggressive get-out-the-vote effort we've ever had, and it's in every corner of the state," said Adrienne Marsh, a spokeswoman for U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill. "The traditional tried-and-true Democratic method has always been to focus on cities. This year, a hallmark of our campaign is that the effort is statewide."

Local Republicans are based on the fifth floor of the H&H building on Broadway and in offices at 500 Kingshighway. Democrats are based in office space at 827 Broadway.

Republican leaders say they have between 30 and 40 volunteers making phone calls and about the same number going door to door each day. Democratic staff declined to be interviewed for this article, deferring all inquiries to state leaders.

Both sides said the keys to all last-minute efforts are enthusiastic volunteers, and both sides have them.

Cyndi Adams of Cape Girardeau has been making phone calls to 23 Southeast Missouri counties three or four days per week for the Democratic Party since the end of July. She believes she can be particularly persuasive to undecided voters because of her experience.

"I'm a Goldwater Republican, I'm a Reagan Republican, but I am not a George W. Bush Republican," she said. "I went to Richard Nixon's inauguration and inaugural ball, but this administration just does not care about people and they made me so mad that I'm a fighting, working Democrat now."

Sometimes she doesn't get the chance to persuade. One man told her he was a Republican and hung up. Before she could dial again, he called back and flushed the toilet when she answered.

"I thought that was really funny," she said. "I've also had people tell me they don't believe in Democrats like the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy or something."

Lisa Reitzel of Cape Girardeau has likewise been volunteering since July for the Republican Party. She said her passion goes back to meeting President Bush in Poplar Bluff, Mo., in 2004. "I've always had my beliefs, but that's when I decided rather than just talk about it I needed to start doing something about it."

During her time volunteering, she says, she tries to make 30 to 40 calls per hour. As it gets closer to election time, some people's patience is getting short.

"I had an elderly lady tell me leave me alone and go fly a kite" because she was tired of the phone calls, Reitzel said. "That's what you hate more than anything toward the end. It's not that you're trying to bother or badger people; it's just that you want to be sure and remind them their vote is really important."

But Reitzel said she believes her time has been worthwhile.

"I'm doing this for my daughter. I want the state to be a good place for her and the leaders to share our morals," she said. "It's not about Republican or Democrat for me. It's about the morals that they have. You know, I'm pro-life, I'm pro-family, I'm pro-God, and if that makes me Republican, then so be it."

The Republican strategy credited with much of their success in the past decade is the Karl Rove-Ken Mehlman "72-Hour Plan." The plan is simple: Identify likely voters and make sure enough of them get to the polling place on Election Day to secure the election.

For example, roughly 400,000 registered voters are in the 8th Congressional District. History shows that in a midterm election in the sixth year of a presidency about 204,000 of them will vote. That means party officials must identify 102,001 likely voters for the desired candidate and call them and aid them to the polling place if necessary in order to win.

"We identify our voters through issues," Haynes said. "We try to find out who goes to church once per week, who's interested in protecting the Second Amendment, who believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Those are going to be our voters. So we try to identify them early and start calling three to four days out from the election."

But strategists and volunteers cannot win an election alone. Candidates must do a lot of the work themselves. State Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau, and opponent Matt Hill, a lawyer for a local firm, are spending much of the last days knocking on doors.

Cooper estimates he'll knock on 100 doors today and Monday.

"The real item is that people remember that you came and talked to them and asked them for their vote," he said. "People want to be asked for their vote."

Hill is also campaigning the old-fashioned way.

"Going door to door is important," he said. "The biggest thing is repetition as far as hearing things from a number of places. I tell people, 'I appreciate you exercising your right to vote.'"

Hill says he doesn't typically ask people who they're voting for. "It's something that they can either tell me the truth or lie to me, and it doesn't make much of a difference. It is still a private matter to most people, and I respect that."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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