Big Boost In Pa.;
Bush gets volunteers out this time;
If the president wins re-election, he can credit a new get-out-the- vote ef-fort- a far stronger plan than in 2000
Lawrence C. Levy
Wednesday September 29, 2004
RADNOR, Pa. - Don't let her white hair and grandmotherly features fool you. Democrats should be scared of Mary Auchincloss.
Almost every night, in a sprawling office in this Philadelphia suburb, she sits for hours with pages of names of po-tential voters and punches up their telephone numbers until her fingers are numb. She is working, she believes, for the good of her country.
"Oh, hello, my name is Mary and I'm a local volunteer calling on behalf of President Bush," she told a woman last week, pushing away the cold remnants of pizza that is the fare de guerre for dozens working with her. "President Bush is committed to protecting the unborn, defending marriage and preserving 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance ... "
Auchincloss held her breath when the woman interrupted. "You don't have to go into that," I could hear the woman say. "I support the president. So does my husband. And we will need an absentee ballot for my mother."
It was a good call for her cause - one that made me a lot less skeptical about the GOP's risky strategy of winning only with the party base.
If George W. Bush wins in Pennsylvania, he almost certainly will be re-elected. And if he carries the Keystone State, where he lost 21 electoral votes in 2000, he will owe it primarily to the unprecedented get-out- the-vote effort by thousands of passionate, well-prepared volunteers. Their energies, especially in "swing" suburbs, went largely unused four years ago.
A good case could be made that Bush lost the state in 2000 because he didn't bring out potential supporters, espe-cially Christian conservatives not excited about the Bush family's once moderate image. Bush also lost because other Republicans saw him as too conservative, and the party inadvertently brought Al Gore voters to the polls. They didn't do enough to learn which Republicans were with them. And they didn't mobilize enough voters who might have been sympathetic with Bush on one issue, such as hunters on gun control and doctors on tort reform.
Not this year. Based on what I saw at the Radnor center, which is decorated with signs such as "Doctors for Bush" and "Sportsmen for Bush," the GOP effort may be a match even for a traditionally stronger Democratic "pulling" ma-chine.
If the Democrats should fear anything the most (besides a lackluster John Kerry performance in tomorrow's presi-dential debate), it isn't a mass transformation of soccer moms to "security" moms. Those are moderate suburban women who often vote for local GOP candidates, but abandoned the party in the last three elections because its leaders seemed too far to the right on social issues. Bush has done a good, if mischievous, job of scaring many of them into seeing him so far as better able to protect their families from terrorism.
But GOP strategists believe correctly that Kerry has a good shot to retain these voters, especially if he carries his sharpened attacks against Bush's handling of the war in Iraq into that first debate. So Republican plans don't count on a single Gore voter defecting on Election Day, not even the enrolled Republicans. And they aren't going to waste any time on seducing them unless they tell a volunteer that they are leaning toward the president.
"Through a year of knocking on doors, we know our voters," said Guy Ciarrocchi, who runs Bush's Pennsylvania operation. "We won't be encouraging every Republican, and we won't be encouraging only Republicans. But every De-mocrat or independent is a bonus."
What should worry Democrats in this now 50-50 state is that Republicans may be doing as good a job as Democrats - who have pumped up their own prodigious "pulling" effort - of getting out supporters.
In 2000, GOP volunteers made 250,000 calls. This year, the professionally supervised callers already have reached a million households - keeping pace with Democrats.
The GOP operation is juiced up in every county. But nowhere are there more Republicans who voted for Democ-rats than in suburban Philadelphia. And nowhere are there more potential ticket-splitters, according to a new Temple University study. And that makes the effort in suburbia trickier than in more GOP areas. It requires a shrewder approach to learning which party enrollees are with them and which message, moderate or conservative, might resonate. Scripts are changed daily.
Auchincloss had her share of curt "not interesteds" or "don't want to discuss its." (Her specific task was to get vot-ers to fill out absentee ballots, so the party doesn't have to worry about them on Election Day.) But she encountered many more supporters.
A few days earlier, the Rev. Michael Owens of Ambler organized "registration Sunday" with several area churches. This didn't happen four years ago. "We got a lot of Christians to register," said his wife, Beth Owens, who heads the Social Conservative Coalition for Bush, which also didn't exist in 2000. "We tell them God has given this country lib-erty. And we love Bush because he believes in traditional values and the sanctity of life."
The game for Bush is to get conservatives out, as quietly as possible, through private calls, so as not to turn off the moderates being targeted with more public appeals on terrorism, education and health care. Kerry plays the same game in rarely talking about abortion rights, leaving it to outside groups to reach pro-choice voters by phone and mail.
So Democrats beware: Republicans are playing this game better than ever. Even if soccer moms return to Kerry or stay home, disgusted with both candidates, Bush is prepared again to be a minority president. And now he is positioned to win only with his base.