Dems, GOP marshal troops in last weekend of race

November 3, 2012

Democratic and Republican volunteers took the phones and the Indiana sidewalks on Saturday to make sure their supporters make it to the polls by or on Election Day.

With early voting set to end Monday and Election Day on Tuesday, the parties switched strategies to focus less on winning over undecided voters than on making sure their backers cast ballots.

Roughly a dozen Democratic volunteers met at the Indiana-Kentucky-Ohio Regional Council of Carpenter's training center just off of Interstate 65 in Greenwood on Saturday with the hopes of pumping up the Democratic party base.

Democratic party organizer Nate Vaught handed them disposable cell phones and call sheets and trained them on the many necessities of calling voters: always be nice; be ready with polling locations and hours, even if the voter is a Republican; and 45 minutes is too long to spend talking to one voter, even if they want a yard sign.

"If we can get all out people out to vote, we're going to win," said Bob Kramer, vice chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party.

The tens of thousands of phone calls volunteers made Saturday are all part of the get-out-the-vote effort the parties run in the critical final days of the election.

Close to a decade ago, that push meant doing everything possible to flood the polls on one day, but early voting stretched that from a days-long operation into a months-long proposition. Democrats dominated early voting efforts in the 2008 race, but Republicans caught up this year and have pushed early voting with equal intensity. Early voting ends at noon Monday.

2012 is shaping up to be a much better year for Republicans in Indiana than 2008. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is expected to carry the state four years after President Barack Obama narrowly did so. And Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence seems poised to keep the governor's office in the GOP's hands for another four years.

But Democrats see a rare bright spot in conservative Indiana with polls showing that Democrat Joe Donnelly taking a lead over Republican Richard Mourdock in the heavily contested Senate race. One poll released Friday showed that Mourdock's comments in a Senate debate about abortion and rape may have sunk his candidacy, driving large numbers of women to Donnelly's camp. Another poll released Saturday showed the race is still too close to call.

Nancy Kirklin, a Johnson County Democratic volunteer, said Mourdock's comments fired up women in this Republican stronghold just south of Indianapolis. Johnson is one of the "doughnut" counties encapsulating the Indianapolis suburbs and exurbs where swing voters and "Lugar Republicans" are expected to determine whether Republicans hold the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar.

If there was an enthusiasm gap for Democrats at the top of their ballot, Mourdock's comments appear to have erased much of it.

"I've seen it on Facebook, I saw women change their minds," Kirklin said, while other women volunteers nodded in agreement.

If the more than $25 million spent on-air in the Senate race and more than $10 million spent on advertising in the governor's battle was meant to craft voters' views on the candidates, the get-out-the-vote effort is meant to make sure they act.

It's hardly as flashy as the advertising war and technology has made it even easier to set up a campaign call center just about anywhere, but the get-out-the-vote centers are an integral part of the parties' efforts to win on Election Day.

Just before 3 p.m., Republican field representative Jenna Knepper said her office had logged 5,500 phone calls. Party spokesman Pete Seat said they had made more than 1.6 million calls for the election.

The phones at the campaign office look like standard land-lines, but they hooked back into a portable internet server, which whirred loudly as the internal fan attempted to keep up with the 24 lines being routed through it to a party laptop. Knepper said she can carry the server and the phones just about anywhere to create a Republican call center.

"As long as it has an Internet connection, we'll take it," Seat chimed in.

Democratic and Republican workers said despite their persistence, they're painfully aware many voters are just tired of the bombardment, on-air and over the phone. In four days, that won't be an issue anymore.


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