latimes.com: Parties bankroll get-out-the-vote efforts
WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times) -- Republican Party leaders say they will raise an unprecedented $100 million to mobilize voters for the November general election with a mix of television and radio advertising, direct mail, phone banks and door-to-door politicking.
The effort, which Democrats plan to combat with a multimillion-dollar organization
drive of their own, marks a bid by the GOP to bolster its in-house turnout operation
after years of counting on groups such as the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle
Assn. to mobilize the conservative base. It represents a staggering 50% jump over the
party's spending in 1996, GOP leaders said.
Fred Meyer, a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party and a friend of
nominee George W. Bush, said the shift is modeled on an effort in Bush's 1994 run for
Texas governor. In that race, strategist Karl Rove worked to identify swing voters and
had the campaign pursue them with phone calls, mail and door-to-door visits. The
combined effort raised turnout about 14%, Meyer said.
Compelling registered voters to show up at the polls on election day is key in any
campaign but particularly in this year's White House race, where the outcome could
turn on a sliver of the electorate.
The Democratic Party, which so far has outspent the GOP on television advertising,
plans to spend about half the Republican amount on mobilization. In part, the
Democrats will be relying on such organizations as the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club
to propel their Democratic-leaning and independent members to the polls to back Vice President Al Gore.
In previous election cycles, the GOP has relied more heavily on grass-roots groups
and its state party leaders in determining how to turn out voters, said Terry Holt, a
spokesman for the mobilization effort, called Victory 2000. This year, Republican
leaders in Washington are sending out their own staff to work alongside state party
"In the last three election cycles, this [national] component has been somewhat less
important," Holt said. "What we're doing this time represents a significant shift back to
having an aggressive ground game."
The most visible sign of the effort so far is the party's air war, including one television
commercial that began airing Tuesday in 17 states, but not California. GOP officials
said the party would spend $3.7 million to run the ad this week. In the ad, an announcer says, "While George Bush offers a positive issue agenda, more negative attacks from Al Gore. The truth? George Bush is cleaning up Texas." The spot also attacks Gore for allowing zinc mining on his personal property.
About one-third of the Republicans' mobilization money, however, would be spent
on TV and radio spots. Another third is earmarked for phone banks, polls and mailings geared toward identifying and swaying independent voters in competitive states.
And $13.7 million is reserved for paying administrative costs for the Bush campaign. Federal law restricts the use of party money in the presidential campaigns, but Holt said the funds can legally be used to pay the costs of operations for "ticketwide projects," such as booking surrogates on news broadcasts to trumpet GOP themes.
Union organizers preparing to help Democrats said their effort is gearing up.
Steven Rosenthal, the political director of the AFL-CIO, said he has been building a
network of organizers who will target 71 congressional districts in 25 states. In contrast, he said the Republican effort would emphasize heavy spending on paid communication instead of door-knocking and personal lobbying.
"Politics has become so impersonal . . . that most voters have nowhere to go to talk
one on one," Rosenthal said. "To some extent we filled the void over the last couple of
years. I think [the GOP] is just using slick campaign mail or paid phone banks. It isn't
going to make up for the neighborly one on one."