Huge Effort to Mobilize Voters Begins

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry unleashed the biggest and most aggressive voter-mobilization drives in the history of presidential politics over the weekend, tapping hundreds of thousands of volunteers and paid organizers in a final effort to tip the balance in a handful of states where the election will be decided Tuesday.

Mixing sophisticated techniques to identify their potential supporters with old-fashioned shoe leather and face-to-face contact to woo loyal and sporadic voters, the two campaigns was to contact millions of Americans -- many of them more than once -- in the final hours of the campaign and then track their movements throughout election day to ensure they have gone to the polls.

The unprecedented efforts underscore the conviction of officials in both campaigns that with the race so close in so many states, the key to victory depends more than in any recent campaign on their ability to win the battle of the streets. In Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico, opposing armies fanned out under blazing sun or cold, drizzly skies to reach as many voters as possible.

Both campaigns hope that no potential voter is likely to escape the net cast by them in the final days. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, Mayor Jim Schmitt tried to take a nap Saturday afternoon, only to be interrupted by a knock on his door from a Kerry canvasser. Just as he fell asleep again, another canvasser appeared at his door, this time from the Bush campaign.

In Minneapolis on Saturday, two GOP voters reported that the Bush campaign had already contacted them three times. In Ohio, Democrats said they had 27,000 people working phone banks and on Saturday night made 399,446 calls. A Bush campaign official said they were contacting 400,000 people per day in Ohio as well. In Pennsylvania, the Bush campaign planned to contact 2 million voters between Friday and election day.

The weekend blitz represented the culmination of many months of preparation by the campaigns, which along with their outside allies will spend $300 million and perhaps much more on targeting and turning out their voters. Longtime organizers say they have never seen so much money available for such an effort.

Bush's budget for voter mobilization is about $125 million, at least triple that of four years ago, a knowledgeable official said. Kerry's field operation, run out of the Democratic National Committee, will spend nearly $60 million, more than doubling what the Democrats spent in 2000, campaign officials said.

Supplementing the campaigns and party operations are outside groups, the biggest and potentially most important being America Coming Together, a pro-Kerry organization funded with "soft money," that is likely to spend $100 million to $125 million. Organized labor also will spend tens of millions to reach union members.

Bush can count on help from conservative and business organizations, although none comes close to the scale of ACT. "We are going to have 45,000 paid people out on election day," said Harold Ickes, ACT's executive director.

Both sides are using a mix of paid staff and volunteers, but the GOP is far more dependent on a volunteer corps of organizers more than 1 million strong. Democrats, with ACT's help, have a more professional operation to turn out their loyalists. Democrats have about 250,000 volunteers, compared with 90,000 four years ago.

Both campaigns have made bold claims about the strength of their get-out-the-vote operations, but neither can tell until Tuesday who has the edge in effectiveness.

The scope of the expansion in the campaigns' organizations can be breathtaking. Four years ago, Bush employed 22 paid staff members in Florida. This year, he has 500 on the payroll. In Ohio, Democrats had 10 field offices and 40 staff members. This year, Democrats have 57 field offices in the state and 270 paid employees. Mike Erlandson, chairman of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said they have six times as many volunteers as in 2000.

The campaigns will spend heavily on Election Day turnout efforts. ACT will pay its forces $75 Tuesday to get voters to the polls. The Republican National Committee is paying travel and hotel costs and $25 per day for food allowances for at least 5,000 loyalists working in battleground states. In Ohio, the state party is paying poll watchers $100 per day to challenge voters with disputed registration credentials.