TOPICS > Politics

Volunteers Hit the Pavement to Sway Last Undecided Voters in Ohio

November 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an election season colored by the intense negative tone of political ads, infantries of Obama and Romney campaign supporters hope to act as a positive force, making sure that everyone who has not yet voted early or by absentee ballot gets out to the polls on Election Day. Judy Woodruff reports.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: We come back to politics and the presidential race.

As it has been for months, Ohio is the battleground of battlegrounds. Romney trails the president in the polls, but has kept the contest for the BuckeyeState close. He needs it more.

His path to victory is easier if he can take Ohio. Should the Republicans lose it, they’d need to capture most of the other battlegrounds tomorrow.

But both candidates want it badly. I spent the final weekend of the campaign around the capital city, Columbus, to see how it was all coming to a close.

With its neat lawns and pretty houses, it doesn’t look anything like a warfront. But to the Obama and Romney campaigns, the FranklinCounty suburb of Upper Arlington, just outside Columbus, is one of thousands of political battlefields that have been carefully marked out in every corner of Ohio.

JEFF JOHNSON, Romney Campaign volunteer: There’s one left, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In each one, the infantry consists mostly of volunteers, like retired Vietnam veteran, now computer programmer Jeff Johnson.

JEFF JOHNSON: Our goal is to turn out all those who we haven’t contacted recently to make sure they have either voted early, voted by absentee ballot or are going to vote on Tuesday.

JEFF JOHNSON: Will you be supporting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan this coming election?

WOMAN: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Johnson, a loyal Republican, has been on the front line canvassing his neighborhood since early September, and says there’s a big difference from the 2008 campaign.

JEFF JOHNSON: Significantly more intense. I think people are very unhappy with the present situation. They’re worried about taxes. They’re worried about the future. They’re worried about the deficit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A mile-and-a-half away, in another part of Upper Arlington, the Obama infantry is reporting back to base, the home of attorney Wanda Carter, a neighborhood team leader since May who for the last four days of the campaign has a new title: staging location director. Hers is one of 860 across the state.

WANDA CARTER, Obama Campaign volunteer: We have more volunteers than we need.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Like Jeff Johnson, Wanda Carter is clear about her and her team’s mission. She also sees a difference from 2008.

WANDA CARTER: There is more enthusiasm, rather than less. I mean, it was very exciting in ’08, very exciting. And I think now that we know who our president is and what he’s willing to do for us, and how he’s willing to fight for us, that we are even more excited about getting him reelected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If there is more intensity and flood of negative ads from both sides on TV, Wanda Carter says Obama supporters going door to door are encouraged to be the positive face of the campaign.

WANDA CARTER: We’re not just gathering numbers. We do keep track, of course, but the real goal that we canvassers have is to have that personal touch with the person that answers the door and to show them that, you know, how we feel about the president and why we want the president to be reelected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To counter the more sophisticated detail-heavy Obama field operation that was started earlier, there’s an energy on the Romney side that’s lifting outreach well beyond what it was four years ago.

SCOTT JENNINGS, Romney Campaign: We have knocked on 20 times more doors than they did in 2008 and we have made twice as many phone calls. That’s hundreds thousands of people we have spoken to, left information for, collected data on. A lot of those were independent swing voters. And we have identified a lot of people that Republican campaigns might have missed in the past.

If you look at these counties back in ’04 and ’08…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Jennings, who took over Romney’s Ohio campaign in the summer, ticks off county after county where he expects Romney to do better than John McCain did in 2008.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Overall, you will see that we were outspent. But I think that’s what makes Mitt Romney’s resurgence here even more remarkable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Head to head, the Obama campaign has spent more. But after adding in tens of millions of dollars from outside political action committees, so-called super PACs, Romney’s side has the overall money advantage.

RACHEL FEI, Americans for Prosperity: Hi. My name is Rachel. I’m with Americans for Prosperity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of those outside groups, Americans for Prosperity, funded by conservatives, including the mega-donor Koch brothers, has sent a small army of its own into Ohio to help get out the vote.

RACHEL FEI: We drove from Columbia, Mo., yesterday. It took us about nine hours, with a few stops. This morning, we hit 600 houses. And this afternoon, we have probably hit about 20 or 30 houses. Not everybody was home, but enough people were home that we were able to spread the word.

MAN: You all will have door-knockers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For their part, Democrats are counting on traditional parts of their political coalition: organized labor and the African-American community.

RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO: We’re going to be working straight through Election Day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: AFL-CIO national president Richard Trumka showed up in Columbus over the weekend to cheer on canvassers.

RICHARD TRUMKA: Mitt Romney said let Detroit go bankrupt. That would have meant let Ohio go bankrupt as well. President Obama didn’t do that. He stepped in. He helped them. We’re hiring right now in Ohio.

JASON MOINE, union worker: I’m a fellow Hilliard resident myself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Electrician and IBEW member Jason Moine says GOP moves in Ohio to weaken collective bargaining have both motivated organized labor and taken a toll.

JASON MOINE: It’s been a little bit tougher. Everybody has kind of had enough, quite frankly. And so we’re hoping to get our message out this year and deliver a blow that will sustain and help us not have to fight these fights continuously year in and year out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another large outreach effort for the president has been launched by African-American churches. Yesterday, they worked their Souls to the Polls initiative to get their members to vote on the next-to-the-last day of early voting.

Lori Elmore was one of the organizers.

LORI ELMORE, Souls to the Polls: Because of all of the stopgaps that have been put in place and all the ways to try to suppress us from voting, I think it’s actually ignited a fervor in people to want to do it just that much more. So, we want to get out in numbers, in record numbers, and push the vote out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, the best evidence so far of how the ground war is going is in the early vote, which began a month ago.

Despite moves by Republican state officials to limit the days and hours that early voting can take place, moves that Democrats went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge, as of this weekend, almost two million Ohioans had voted early.

And, on Sunday the line at the one polling location available for all of FranklinCounty, that line was wrapped several times around this parking lot.

As the hours ticked closer to Election Day, both the Romney and the Obama camps were expressing confidence.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, R-Ohio: I’m calling today as a volunteer on behalf of the Romney campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Sen. Rob Portman:

SEN. ROB PORTMAN: We’re winning among independents in 17 of the last 21 polls. We have been winning among independents, average about 10 points. So it’s hard to imagine in Ohio that you would lose if you’re winning by 10 points among independents.

CHRIS REDFERN, Ohio Democratic Party: Oftentimes, you look at voter registration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ohio’s state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern:

CHRIS REDFERN: We have intimate relationships with our voters. We know who they are. We know their voting history. We know what interests them in terms of policies and issues.

And for the better part of the last four years, we have had this relationship that we have cultivated, so we’re quite confident that our program is going to work and has worked.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is certain is that here at the end, both sides will work for every voter they can find right up until the polls close in Ohio at 7:30 Tuesday night.

RACHEL FEI: You have a great day.

WOMAN: Thank you.

RACHEL FEI: Thank you.