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Inside Politics

Ground war: Getting out the vote

Each campaign is targeting different groups, in different ways

By John Mercurio
CNN Washington Bureau

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America Votes 2004

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The only poll that matters, as the saying goes, is the one on Election Day. And the winner of that election, apparently, is the candidate who turns out his voters.

Following months of rallies, speeches and media interviews, President George Bush and Democrat John Kerry are focusing their final days before Tuesday's election on the less glamorous but crucial task of getting their supporters to the polls, an artless science that's especially important in the swing states that could decide who wins the race.

Record-breaking participation in early-voting programs and predictions of unprecedented high turnout are both simplifying and complicating the task, which has been led by outside groups hoping to help their chosen candidates and advance their own political agendas.

Curtis Gans with the Center for the Study of the American Electorate estimates that 58 percent to 68 percent of eligible voters -- between 120 million and 130 million voters -- will cast ballots. That would represent a level of participation not seen since 1968.

The Kerry-Edwards campaign's get-out-the-vote drive has been supplemented by organized labor and so-called 527 independent groups, including Americans Coming Together (ACT), a liberal get-out-the-vote organization that has spent $125 million this year to boost Kerry.

Those groups would be widely credited with a Kerry win in Ohio, a GOP-dominated state where Democrats have a particularly weak party apparatus. ACT officials say they have 12,000 people working in Ohio. (Showdown states: Ohio)

Leading the charge for labor is the AFL-CIO, which is spending approximately $45 million nationwide for a voter-turnout program called "Labor 2004."

Organizers say 5,000 staff and union members from affiliated unions will be released to work full-time on the program. That compares to 1,500 total in 2000. The number of released staff in only three states in 2004 -- Ohio (539), Pennsylvania (713) and Florida (414) -- exceeds the total number who participated nationwide in 2000. (Showdown states: Pennsylvania; Florida)

Democrats say they'll have 250,000 volunteers working in battleground states on Election Day -- nearly three times the number working for Al Gore four years ago.

Republicans, meanwhile, are banking on traditionally conservative groups like churches and gun clubs and are utilizing the "72-Hour Plan" that was widely credited with helping them gain seats in the 2002 congressional elections.

The "2004 Christian Coalition Voter Guide" has been distributed to churchgoers in conservative precincts. The guide is characterized as "nonpartisan," but the language it uses to describe the candidates' positions reveals their preferences. Bush, for example, is portrayed as opposing "unrestricted abortion on demand," "federal firearm registration" and United Nations command of U.S. soldiers, while the guide says Kerry offers "no response" on each of these hot-button issues. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the issues)

Democrats are focusing on churches as well. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were in Columbus over the weekend focusing on turning out their base of black voters in the all-important state of Ohio.

Each campaign is targeting different groups, and is going about it in fundamentally different ways.

The Bush-Cheney campaign, in conjunction with the state and national parties, is solely responsible for the Republican operation. The campaign says it has recruited 50,000 volunteers to help get out voters on Election Day in Wisconsin.

The Democratic ground war, meanwhile, is being waged by the Kerry-Edwards campaign and the independent 527 groups. While both candidates are relying heavily on in-state volunteers, the Democratic efforts seem to have attracted a larger number of out-of-state workers as well.

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