TOPICS > Politics

Parties Work to Get Their Bases to the Polls During Close Midterm Elections

November 7, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Gwen Ifill is in suburban Philadelphia, where she’s been monitoring turnout there and elsewhere.

GWEN IFILL: Good evening, Jim.

It is a truism in American politics that no poll counts until Election Day. But for the candidates, they figure why leave the outcome to chance?

Election Day in Pennsylvania, where races for the U.S. House, Senate and statehouse all climaxed during the last 24 hours in a flurry of phone-calling, door-knocking and last-minute appeal.

CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER: All the persuasion is done. Right now, we’re trying to talk to our supporters to remind them the importance of voting on November 7th, Tuesday. If they don’t come, we’re not going to be successful. All of our work up to this point will be for naught.

CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER: Where you are canvassing today is our base. It’s the heart of who we’re going to pull out on Election Day.

GWEN IFILL: Party organizers, special interest groups, and community activists across the country are spending millions to get their people to the polls.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: Hi. My name is Vera, and I’m calling on behalf of Congressman Curt Weldon.

'Voter Vault,' 'Barney Bus' tactics

GWEN IFILL: Just under 40 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2002. Driven by voter discontent over Washington and the war, both sides say that number is expected to rise.

The Republican Party has assembled a database called the Voter Vault for every big race this year.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: We hit the state record in our county, Montgomery County. We did more outgoing phone calls than any county in the history of Pennsylvania.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: I got the numbers for just our district; it was almost 6,000 calls.


CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: Just our district.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: We did 15,025 calls.

CAMPAIGN CALLER: Drumming up our support for Senator Rick Santorum and Lynn Swann for governor, and Representative Curt Weldon. And we really need your vote.

CAMPAIGN CALLER: ... next Tuesday, November 7th, is the day to vote.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats are relying more heavily on sympathetic interest groups, like organized labor, to do much the same thing.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: We're union members going today on a labor walk about the upcoming elections.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: These are the candidates, Democratic ticket, thinking about pulling the big ticket Democrat, the big lever for Democrat.

CAMPAIGN CALLER: Hello, I'm a union member calling to remind you about today's elections.

GWEN IFILL: And labor unions have pulled out their own high-tech device, what they call the "Barney Bus," an automated call center that makes tens of thousands of calls a day, focusing on Democratic households.

Parties work to find voters

Matt Burns
Pennsylvania Republican Party
We're looking to tailor our message to those who are going to support our ticket based on a particular issue they may be interested in.

MATT BURNS, Spokesman, Pennsylvania Republican Party: We have people all over the commonwealth.

GWEN IFILL: Matt Burns works for the Republicans.

PATRICK EIDING, Philadelphia AFL-CIO: We had Clinton here for the whole day.

GWEN IFILL: Patrick Eiding runs Philadelphia's AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Democratic candidates.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: We're out stumping for Republican ticket.

GWEN IFILL: When it comes to finding voters, they are opposite sides of the same coin. Each man claims his party has the edge, with thousands of paid and volunteer canvassers streaming into the state from across the nation.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: These are people from Waco, Texas, who've come up to volunteer to help the senator.

LOIS MURPHY (D), Pennsylvania House Candidate: Who's from Pennsylvania? There you go. There you go. So thank you all for coming. I know some people have come from far and some from near. I'm really grateful that you're here today. As you probably know, this is one of the closest and most closely watched races in the nation. With your help, we're going to win, and we're going to surprise some people and win big.

PATRICK EIDING: Our final four -- meaning the final four days that we've been running around this state, especially in Pennsylvania and, I think, across the whole country -- we're putting thousands and thousands of people on the street.

GWEN IFILL: Mark Greenfield came in Sunday from New York City, and this is not his first stop.

MATT GREENFIELD, Campaign Volunteer: I went to Connecticut yesterday to do something similar for Diane Farrell up in Connecticut, a House seat, as well, because I think it's really important the Democrats take back the House. So I'm trying to do my part to help.

The last 96 hours are the most important part of an election campaign, so I feel like there's nothing really that close in New York that I can affect on a national level.

GWEN IFILL: So I see bumper stickers here, "Law Enforcement for Santorum," "Racing Fans for Santorum," "Farmers for Santorum." Do each of those people get a different kind of approach?

MATT BURNS: They certainly may, like I said, you know, depending on what issue is important to them. And it's not just Republicans, we just happen to do it better. But certainly we're looking to tailor our message to those who are going to support our ticket based on a particular issue they may be interested in.

CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: Thank you very much. Great to see you.

CITIZEN: Take care now. All right. Bye-bye.

Priming base without losing others

Patrick Eiding
Philadelphia AFL-CIO
I'm concerned that tomorrow that people are disgusted with all the negative commercials that are on and those kinds of things that people just throw up their hands and say, 'I'm not going to bother with either one of them.'

GWEN IFILL: Candidates walk a fine line searching for ways to energize their strongest supporters, often with slashing advertising...

TV AD NARRATOR: Jim Gerlach voted against requiring the president to provide a plan for success. And Gerlach opposed a plan to bring our troops home.

TV AD NARRATOR: Lois Murphy doesn't seem to mind taking money out of our pockets. No wonder she's supported by every radical liberal organization in the country.

GWEN IFILL: ... without turning off other voters altogether.

PATRICK EIDING: I think it's resonating with the average person.

GWEN IFILL: But sometimes "resonating" means people throw up their hands and stay home. How do you get -- how do you know that people who are angry will actually turn out to vote, instead of just saying "never mind"?

PATRICK EIDING: Well, I think that's a job that we have. I mean, we're concerned with that. We're very concerned with that.

I'm concerned that tomorrow that people are disgusted with all the negative commercials that are on and those kinds of things that people just throw up their hands and say, "I'm not going to bother with either one of them." So our goal is to try to keep the message there.

GWEN IFILL: Are you targeting people who are undecided at this late stage or are you going for voters who you know will support you but who might otherwise stay home?

MATT BURNS: Well, you know, both. I mean, certainly, we want to make sure that people that we know are going to support our ticket turn out, but obviously this late in the election cycle you still have some folks that are undecided. We want every last vote. We want to turn out everybody we possibly can that is going to ultimately support the Republican ticket.

Thousands work to the end

GWEN IFILL: Eiding says he's put 8,000 union-affiliated workers in the streets this campaign season, knocking on 800,000 doors.

PATRICK EIDING: So we're saying, you know, "Come on out, Republicans. Come on out, Democrats. Vote." We'd like to see the -- the higher the percentage of voters that come out on Election Day or tomorrow, I think we have a good shot at winning because of what this country is going through and where we are.

GWEN IFILL: Burns says he had 5,000 workers out in Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery Counties just this past weekend, part of what national Republicans call their 72-hour strategy, volunteers like Fred Conner and Tommy Goetz.

FRED CONNER, Republican Volunteer: Really, within the last week, I'd have to say that the tone has really changed, from what I've seen. I mean, maybe 100 calls a week and on average 50, 60 doors, maybe more on a Saturday. And just within the last two weeks, it seems that people are really now getting engaged.

TOMMY GOETZ, Republican Volunteer: I think it's strategic. People see that common folk like ourselves are all together in this, and it's like a team. It becomes a team to win, and I think that's what's going to happen.

GWEN IFILL: Voters went to the polls today to test the boasts.

Is Tuesday going to be a long night?

MATT BURNS: Well, they've all been long nights lately.

PATRICK EIDING: I am really looking forward to it. You know, I'm like the basketball player who wants the ball. I want to go tomorrow. I'm ready to go for tomorrow. We're ready.

GWEN IFILL: But in so many races today, the outcome is a jump ball.

CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER: You know, I know you guys are all strong Republicans, and so am I, but I don't want to -- you know, it's going back and forth in my mind with all the stuff going on.

GWEN IFILL: So many toss-ups, so little time.