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Growing Grassroots

While the national media have concentrated on the Democratic presidential candidates, the Bush campaign has been quietly working on building a sophisticated database of supporters to assist the campaign in finely targeting issue-based appeals.

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  • TERENCE SMITH:

    President Bush's speech to the Republican governors last week was widely interpreted as the opening salvo in his reelection campaign.

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    I look forward to the contest.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    But in fact, Mr. Bush and his campaign staff have been quietly busy for months, building a 21st-century version of a grassroots communications network that they say is essential in a contest that could be decided in fewer than 20 swing states.

  • SPOKESPERSON, Bush-Cheney campaign:

    Bush-Cheney communications…

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    From small counties in New England to the suburbs of the South, to the prosperous cities of the West, Bush-Cheney '04 is alive, flush with funds, and well.

  • MATTHEW DOWD:

    We have about 150,000 people that have volunteered to help in the campaign, that we are communicating with, talking to.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    150,000?

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Matthew Dowd, a veteran of Bush's 2000 campaign, is chief strategist this time. He says the campaign will devote more resources to grassroots organization, even as it begins paid television advertising this week.

  • MATTHEW DOWD:

    I think one of the things we learned is that when we have people that can talk to people personally, you have a much better effect than if somebody sees a TV spot, or somebody sees a direct mail piece, or somebody gets a phone call.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Broadcast advertising will be targeted at the contested states.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    How many states do you think are seriously in play?

  • MATTHEW DOWD:

    My guess is somewhere between 14 and 18 states will ultimately decide the electoral college.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Top of your list, I suppose, would be … I mean, Florida has got to be —

  • MATTHEW DOWD:

    Well, Florida was close. It was 560 votes that was decided, but we had states like New Mexico that was decided by less than 400 votes. Ohio is going to be a close state; Minnesota, we only lost by two and a half points.

    There were 60 electoral votes decided last time by a total of 25,000 votes.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Sounds like that list is burned into your mind.

  • MATTHEW DOWD:

    Yeah, I have the list. The electoral map is king in a presidential race.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    But key to that effort is a sophisticated voter identification drive aimed at making sure Bush supporters go to the polls. Campaign officials feel advertising alone will not do what it once did.

  • RALPH REED:

    There has never been anything like this in a presidential election, really, since the rise of television in the 1950s.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Longtime conservative activist Ralph Reed heads the Bush-Cheney campaign in the Southeast.

    He says the rise of the Internet and talk radio and the splintering of the television audience provide both a challenge and an opportunity.

  • RALPH REED:

    You can't go up on a television ad on a major broadcast outlet and see your poll numbers move the way they did 20 years ago. There just aren't as many people watching as a percentage of the overall electorate.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Television viewers, he says, have become inured to the daily drumbeat of campaign ads.

  • RALPH REED:

    They tend to be a little bit more cynical about the message that they are receiving. And what you find in the research is that I am much more likely to accept at face value a message about a candidate from a friend or a neighbor.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    The campaign already has an extraordinary database of 6 million supporters. The effort to build contact lists reaches even tiny Androscoggin County, Maine.

  • SPOKESMAN, Bush-Cheney campaign:

    We simply need names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of people we can reach out to.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    The information gained will assist the campaign in finely targeting issue-based appeals.

    Old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning will be augmented by the new technology.

  • RALPH REED:

    Using consumer-based information, Internet-based marketing, and voter identification, you are going to have 40 or 50 different subgroups. Now we are creating much smaller clusters of voters.

    And I think the day is coming when you are going to do what we used to call a friends and family program, where you had people take their Rotary Club or church or synagogue, or temple membership, or neighborhood directory, or even a tennis or garden club list, match it up against a voter file, and you will be able to do customized messages just to those people.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Supporters are encouraged to go to the Bush-Cheney Web site not only to find policy positions, but also for practical tips on calling a talk radio station or e-mailing newspaper editors to spread the word.

  • SPOKESMAN, Bush-Cheney campaign:

    It's all right there. It's a matter of your pulling it off and sending it to the Sun Journal, sending it to the Press Herald, sending it to the Bangor Daily News.

  • RADIO ANNOUNCER:

    North Georgia's number one station for news and local talk.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    While the national media have been consumed by news of the democratic primary race, Bush-Cheney officials have made themselves available to local media, in particular conservative talk radio.

  • MARTHA ZOLLER, TALK RADIO HOST:

    Do you have a different strategy facing a John Kerry than, say, you would have had facing a Howard Dean?

    CALLER, representing Bush-Cheney campaign: Not really. John Kerry is really John Edwards without the drawl. (Laughter)

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Talk show host Martha Zoller says shows like hers energize the faithful.

  • MARTHA ZOLLER:

    There's this sort of camaraderie between the people they see on TV and the people they talk to on their local talk radio show.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    The president, for his part, has been attending fundraisers.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, speaking at fundraising events: I'm getting ready … I'm loosening up.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    The campaign has raised more than $140 million so far.

  • The target:

    $170 million or more, all to be spent by the nominating conventions, when another $75 million in public financing will be available to both major candidates.

    Although he is not yet a declared candidate, the president has been mixing the presidential and the political. Speaking at fundraisers, he reinforces the grassroots campaign by portraying himself as an outsider.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, speaking at fundraising events: There's too much politics in Washington, D.C. Endless backbiting. Zero-sum attitude.

  • RICHARD STEVENSON, The New York Times:

    He talks all the time about "some in Washington" like it is some sort of alien experience for him to look down on what goes on here.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    But like all incumbent presidents…

  • REPORTER:

    Fishing for votes, sir?

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    No, no, I'm here to buy some fishing gear.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    …he has been scheduling official presidential events in battleground states, some of the same states where the grassroots campaign is concentrated.

  • RICHARD STEVENSON:

    A lot of the travel that he does is to states that have some clear, political, strategic necessity.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Richard Stevenson is a White House reporter for The New York Times.

  • RICHARD STEVENSON:

    We spend a lot of time going, for example, to Pennsylvania and Michigan, two states that they would dearly like to take away from the Democrats, two states that Al Gore won narrowly in 2000. They spend a lot of time in Ohio and, of course, Florida, Missouri as well.

  • SEN. KIT BOND, R-Mo.:

    Welcome to the Ozarks, Mr. President. It is a thrill to have you here.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    The campaign says its theme will be a positive one. "Steady leadership in times of change" is one slogan. But in a close election…

  • RALPH REED:

    We think 2004 could be as close as 2000, or closer.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    …unexpected events overseas or bumps in the economic road at home have a nasty way of changing the best laid of campaign plans.

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