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Campaigns Push for Voter Turnout in Battlegrounds Like Colorado

November 3, 2008 at 6:25 PM EST
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As election officials prepare for high voter turnout Tuesday, Tom Bearden probes the massive efforts by both campaigns in Colorado to register voters and get them to turn out at the polls. Then, analysts examine strong early voting numbers and demographic shifts.
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JIM LEHRER: But first, getting out the vote, and NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden reports on that from Colorado.

NITA LYNCH, Obama Campaign Volunteer: Anybody that can sign up for that get-out-the-vote for a shift, please see me.

TOM BEARDEN, NewsHour Correspondent: Democrat Nita Lynch has voted in every presidential election since John F. Kennedy, but she never donated time or money to a candidate until this year.

She says Barack Obama has inspired her to work 20 to 30 hours a week for the past six months in his Longmont, Colo., office, signing up new voters, trying to persuade undecideds, and doing anything else that’s required.

NITA LYNCH: I’ve done a lot of data entry. It’s whatever it takes. I’ve cleaned the bathroom; I’ve cleaned the kitchen, provided food. Right now, I have a big pot of soup that I’m going to take to our field organizers.

TOM BEARDEN: Republican Peggy Littleton is a longtime political volunteer in Colorado Springs, a perennial conservative bastion. In fact, this area gave George Bush his fourth-highest margin of victory in 2000. Littleton says they need to do even better tomorrow.

PEGGY LITTLETON, McCain Campaign: El Paso County has got to come along with a higher margin for John McCain than we’ve ever had to do before.

TOM BEARDEN: Even though you’ve had record margins?

PEGGY LITTLETON: We have had record margins, but this time we’ve got to up the ante just a little bit.

Strategies to reach voters

Tom Cronin
Colorado College
We're likely to see 20 million, 30 million more people voting, the whole use of the Internet, the whole use of fundraising, the whole use of campaign offices and a remarkable get-out-the-vote kind of activities.


TOM BEARDEN: Over these past 72 hours, thousands of volunteers like Lynch and Littleton have fanned out across the state in an unprecedented get-out-the- vote effort to try to win Colorado's nine electoral votes for their candidate.

TOM CRONIN, Colorado College: In a state otherwise that doesn't easily vote for liberals...

TOM BEARDEN: Tom Cronin teaches political science at Colorado College. On this morning, he met with students over breakfast. Cronin thinks this election will be very different than the last.

TOM CRONIN: I believe this will be a historic election in terms of turnout. We're likely to see 20 million, 30 million more people voting, the whole use of the Internet, the whole use of fundraising, the whole use of campaign offices and a remarkable get-out-the-vote kind of activities.

TOM BEARDEN: While both campaigns use a variety of strategies to reach voters, the Obama campaign points to its field offices in Colorado towns of all sizes. Anne Filipic is the election director for the Obama Colorado campaign.

ANNE FILIPIC, Obama Campaign Election Director: We have 51 offices open across the state and really making an effort to be in the community, to be accessible to voters, to make sure that they have a place they can stop by on their way home from work or the grocery store.

And we've seen that pay off. You know, we can see -- I think you can feel the momentum that we're gaining.

NITA LYNCH: And you're bilingual, right?

TOM BEARDEN: Lynch says she has spent most of her time talking to Latinos in her neighborhoods and organizing rallies with Hispanic politicians.

REP. JOE BACA (D), California: And Obama cares about all of us, regardless of what color we are or where we come from.

TOM BEARDEN: Latinos make up 17 percent of the Colorado population, but only 8 percent voted in the last presidential election.

NITA LYNCH: We registered over 300 people, mostly Latinos and Latinos that had never voted before. So a lot of them, the process is very intimidating for them to think of going down and having to register, so us doing the outreach was really, really critical.

TOM BEARDEN: The McCain campaign has 12 field offices in Colorado. They're relying less on new registrants and more on longtime, reliable GOP voters, like these soccer moms.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, Daughter of John McCain: My dad, John McCain.

TOM BEARDEN: The campaign has held several events like this one, bringing in John McCain's daughter to read to children while their mothers made calls to persuade other suburban women to vote Republican.

PEGGY LITTLETON: For the first time, we actually have phone banks that feed into a central data system and that are collecting all of this information for us. I mean, three weeks ago we had more data and information than we did the day after the election back in 2004.

So we're being more efficient. We're being more effective and a whole lot more streamlined in our efforts.

VOLUNTEER: Are you planning to vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin?

TOM BEARDEN: The McCain campaign emphasizes its sophisticated micro-targeting of voters. Tom Kise is the spokesman for the McCain campaign in Colorado.

TOM KISE, McCain Campaign Volunteer: We lay over consumer data over the top of voter and polling data, come up with a vote model for who we think our voters are going to be. We look at them not only based on their registration, but who they are and how they live, in addition to where they live geographically, what their ZIP Code is.

So all this stuff goes into a formula, into a pattern, and we can from that derive who we think our voters are going to be and then contact them based on the issues that we think they're going to care about the most.

Targeting taxes

Greg Hall
Electrician
It means we're going to become like the rest of the industrialized world, with 50 percent to 70 percent taxes in order to pay for that. And that's going to definitely create less jobs and be a real burden.

TOM BEARDEN: Over the last 10 days, the McCain campaign targeted small businessmen and contractors, a group they felt they most needed to reach. The main issue: taxes.

That's why Senator McCain recently toured a metal stamping plant in Colorado Springs and why Joe the plumber has become a staple in his stump speech, like this one in Denver 10 days ago.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: We've finally learned what Senator Obama's economic goal is. As he told Joe the plumber back in Ohio, he wants to, quote, "spread the wealth around."

TOM BEARDEN: The tax issue has resonated with electrician Greg Hall, who participated in a campaign event aimed at other small contractors.

GREG HALL, Electrician: It means we're going to become like the rest of the industrialized world, with 50 percent to 70 percent taxes in order to pay for that. And that's going to definitely create less jobs and be a real burden.

TOM BEARDEN: It's even persuaded contractor Chris Sandoval, a former Democrat, to vote for McCain.

CHRIS SANDOVAL, Contractor: I've been working since I was 12 years old. I didn't get my first new shirt -- first new shirt -- there was 13 in my family -- until I was 12 years old. And I bought it shining shoes. And I'll be darned if I'm going to let somebody that's never went out and earned anything take that from me.

TOM BEARDEN: But dog trainer John Hendershot says he thinks McCain is pandering to people like him. He's a Republican who voted for George Bush in the last two elections, but won't vote Republican this time.

JOHN HENDERSHOT, Dog Trainer: I think that health insurance is important. Certainly to me, as I grow older, it becomes more and more important and a wide variety of things that the Republicans just don't seem to address.

And they can try to appeal to the middle class. But I get angry when I hear them say that, because it's almost like they think they can -- they're talking to idiots. And I don't like to think of myself as an idiot. I mean, I was for eight years, but I'm trying to fix that now.

VOLUNTEER: Don't forget to get that ballot in, because every vote is going to count.

TOM BEARDEN: Health care is also the main issue that motivated nurse and union activist Michael Kingsbury to go door-to-door for the Obama campaign.

MICHAEL KINGSBURY, Activist: On a day like this, we'll probably knock on 150 doors and, if 25 of them are home, I'll be glad. And if I have five conversations that move somebody, then -- and if there's a thousand other people out here like me that have five conversations, there you go.

You know, I mean, I've been in races before where the person won or lost by 100 votes or 200 votes.

TOM BEARDEN: This year, get-out-the vote activities started much earlier than usual.

VOLUNTEER: Thanks for voting early with us.

TOM BEARDEN: That's because, for the past two weeks, Coloradans could vote early at polling places or by mail. The Obama campaign made it a top priority to get voters to the polls early because they fear long lines on Election Day discourage Democratic voters.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Hi, this is Sen. Barack Obama. How are you?

TOM BEARDEN: Last week, Sen. Obama himself was making calls at a Fort Collins field office. And he made a pitch to tens of thousands of people in Denver.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: How many people have early voted? Raise your hands. Keep your hands up. If you haven't early voted, find somebody next to you who's early voted and find out what you need to do.

TOM BEARDEN: The secretary of state's office estimates that about half of Colorado's registered voters will cast their ballots by mail or in early voting.

The latest polls give Obama a slight edge in this normally Republican-leaning state. But neither party is taking anything for granted, as the campaigns continued to blitz the state in the final days and hours.

Some former presidential candidates campaigned here over the weekend, Gen. Wesley Clark on behalf of Sen. Obama, and Gov. Mitt Romney for Sen. McCain.

And tonight, Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin will hold rallies just hours before the polls open.

Independent voters increase

Andy Kohut
Pew Research Center
Turnout is what this is all about. We see larger percentages than four years ago of key Obama constituencies in our likely voter models.

JIM LEHRER: And now back to Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: I'm joined once again by Andy Kohut and Amy Walter.

Amy, I may have called you Stu when I said goodbye. Welcome back.

Let me ask you a little bit about this last-minute get-out-the-vote push. How important is that at this stage?

ANDREW KOHUT, President, Pew Research Center: Extremely important. Turnout is what this is all about.

We see larger percentages than four years ago of key Obama constituencies in our likely voter models. The percentage of African-Americans has gone from 11 percent four years ago to -- from eight percent four years ago to 11 percent. That's proportionately a big increase.

We see the same thing among younger voters. But in the past week, we've seen Republicans, unlike earlier in the cycle, Republicans energized, as well, to the point where we get the traditional difference in this poll between registered -- we get the Republican candidate getting a boost when we narrow from registered voters to likely voters.

We hadn't seen that prior to our most recent poll. This is a long-winded way of saying the Republicans are getting with it, too, it seems.

GWEN IFILL: What about the great, vaunted independent voter who we've heard so much about? Andy's poll has them at 45 percent for Obama and 39 percent for McCain, Amy.

AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline: Well, I think they're going to be very important. And, again, this goes back to -- not to get into intricacies of polling, but how many people we determine are actually truly independent versus how many people are identifying as Democrats or Republicans.

The bigger problem -- and Andy and Pew had noted this earlier in the year -- is that fewer people are identifying as Republicans. More people are identifying as independents.

These may have been Republicans a couple of years ago, and now they're voting -- they're saying that they're independents. And the fact that Obama is leading among that group suggests that it's not just your traditional -- these down-the-line people that say, "I've always been an independent," but many of them are, like we saw in this piece, some disaffected Republicans.

Early voters and the undecideds

Amy Walter
Hotline
The reason campaigns love early voting is because it's voters in the bank. Now they know exactly who they need to contact tomorrow to make sure that those additional folks get to the polls.

GWEN IFILL: We've also seen a big difference this year -- I think as much as a third of the vote is being cast early. These early voters who we've seen lining up in these amazing lines, Andy, who are they breaking for?

ANDREW KOHUT: Fifty-four percent Obama, thirty-six percent for McCain, which is obviously a bigger difference than what we have overall. When we look at the people who say they're going to vote on Election Day, it's dead even between Obama and McCain.

So the early voters are disproportionately Obama. And what's going to happen tomorrow is a more even split, if this poll is accurate.

GWEN IFILL: Is that the way you read it, as well, Amy?

AMY WALTER: Yes, I mean, the reason campaigns love early voting is because it's voters in the bank. Now they know exactly who they need to contact tomorrow to make sure that those additional folks get to the polls.

I mean, I'll be very curious to see what the numbers finally look like in Georgia and North Carolina, where the African-American turnout has been phenomenal, 35 percent in Georgia in a state that has -- normally, you've seen maybe 25 percent turnout among African-Americans.

So we don't know how much that number then will be diluted by voting on Election Day, but it still suggests that we're going to have -- it's going to be a big, big number.

GWEN IFILL: Well, it's hard to imagine at this late date that people are still undecided, but I think there are seven percent or eight percent who are showing up as saying -- or at least they're telling pollsters that they haven't made up their minds. Where do they go?

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, we know that half of those people don't vote, because after the election we look up what the undecideds did. We have a record -- we can go see if they voted or not. We know half of them don't vote.

GWEN IFILL: So they just tell people that because...

ANDREW KOHUT: So they tell -- you know, they're still in the game, but they end up not voting. Our model suggests they're breaking a little bit to McCain. They look demographically and attitudinally 55 percent to 45 percent split for McCain.

GWEN IFILL: Enough to make a difference, Amy?

AMY WALTER: Not enough to make a difference, not when you're looking at -- if it's this -- and ultimately then it's three percent in a poll where Obama is leading by 5 percent or 6 percent or 8 percent, it's not going to be enough.

GWEN IFILL: OK. Amy Walter and Andy Kohut, thank you both very much.