Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2004 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
John H. Fund
Turnout Titans: Meet the gurus of getting out the vote.
If John Kerry is elected president, he will have many people to thank, but the list may start with Michael Whouley. A legendary Democratic field operative, the reclusive Mr. Whouley is in charge of the thousands of Democratic grassroots organizers who are charged with getting out the vote.
Similarly, if George W. Bush wins he will owe a great deal to Morton Blackwell, a GOP national committeeman from Virginia, who helped persuade the party to supplement its paid advertising with a ground game that worked so well in Senate races in 2002 that it became the model for this year's GOP get-out-the-vote efforts.
A candidate's GOTV efforts can be the key to victory, and a bad effort is an easy way to blow a lead and lose an election. "When elections are close, people always credit an effective ground game with between one and three points," says Teresa Vilmain, a key player in Democratic efforts to bring their base vote to the polls.
Ms. Vilmain told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that in Wisconsin the Democrats now have 348 paid workers, compared with only 70 in 2000, when Al Gore carried the state by 5,708 votes. Another 44 student coordinators are in charge of getting out the vote on college campuses, a drive aided by the Wisconsin's status as one of six states where people can register to vote on Election Day.
Republican officials in Wisconsin say they have 50,000 volunteers signed up, each of whom has pledged to try to bring 50 voters to the polls. "There is often so much advertising at the end that many voters tune it out and rely on family, friends, co-workers or the volunteer knocking at the door to motivate them to vote," says Rep Scott Jensen, a former speaker of the Wisconsin House.
In previous years, both parties paid telemarketers to call voters and direct-mail houses to distribute campaign literature. This year, the reliance is on volunteers calling and writing friends, having house parties, and pledging to deliver a certain number votes from their precinct.
Both sides have developed sophisticated campaign Web sites to help volunteers. The Kerry campaign site tells people how register to vote, get an absentee ballot and send e-mails to friends reminding them to vote. The Bush site provides information on traveling to a battleground state to sway undecided voters as well as obtaining a "precinct kit" that includes walking maps for target neighborhoods.
Some of the volunteers aren't mere foot soldiers. Both sides will have thousands of lawyers standing by to engage in courtroom battles in any close state. Mr. Whouley, the field marshal of the Kerry campaign, has six "SWAT teams" of lawyers stationed around the country, all of them within an hour's flight of any battleground state. The Associated Press reports that the Kerry legal teams have office space in every battleground state, with plans so detailed they include the number of staplers and coffee machines needed to mount legal challenges. "Right now, we have 10,000 lawyers out in the battleground states on Election Day, and that number is growing by the day," says Mr. Whouley, who will run the Democrats' election night war room in Washington. .
Mr. Whouley has the absolute confidence of top Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, for whom he first worked as a director of field operations in his 1982 race of lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. In 1992, the Boston native was director of field operations for Bill Clinton's campaign and after serving as patronage chief in the Clinton White House helped save New Hampshire for Al Gore in the 2000 primary against Bill Bradley. Mr. Kerry says one of the reasons he didn't challenge Mr. Gore for the Democratic nomination that year was that "I would not have enjoyed running against Whouley." Later in 2000, Mr. Whouley was the Gore aide who told the vice president on election night that the vote in Florida was too close to call and that he should retract the concession he had just made to George W. Bush.
This year, Mr. Whouley teamed up with Mr. Kerry again to rescue his campaign from oblivion in the Iowa caucuses. He brilliantly deployed all of the weapons at his command--door-to-door volunteers, direct mail, phone banks and even a helicopter that ferried the candidate to as many as six events a day--to pull off one of the great upsets of this year's elections. Democrats are counting on him to be Mr. Kerry's ace in the hole next week.
But Republicans also have their legendary grassroots specialists. Morton Blackwell was the youngest delegate at the 1964 Republican convention that nominated Barry Goldwater. He has since become president of the nonprofit Leadership Institute, which has trained more than 40,000 young people in the mechanics of politics, fund raising, media relations and public speaking. "It sometimes seems Morton has trained half of the most energetic and bright young people I run into on political campaigns," says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
After the 2000 election, in which the Bush campaign was caught flat-footed by Mr. Whouley's organizing efforts on Election Day, Mr. Blackwell wrote a cri de coeur warning that political consultants working for the party were more interested in making money on commissions from TV advertising than in winning elections. Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, says that Mr. Blackwell "finally got people to listen to him but only after he pointed out that since Democrats have a built-in grassroots base in unions the Republicans are bound to lose elections if they don't compete in that area."
Republicans responded to the challenge in 2001 by creating a 72-hour task force to measure the impact of increased grassroots efforts in elections in Virginia and New Jersey. The results led the party to adopt a rule that no state party would receive funds if it did not develop a permanent 72-hour effort. In 2002, such efforts were credited with winning control of the U.S. Senate back for the Republicans. "Shoe-leather politics were a major factor in winning the recall campaign for Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003," says Ron Nehring, who has revitalized San Diego's Republican Party with the creation of volunteer armies.
This year Mr. Blackwell is encouraging the use of automated survey equipment to supplement volunteers. The new technology allows campaigns to cheaply ask yes-or-no questions to almost unlimited numbers of people. The computer recognizes and records the "yes" and "no" answers people give. That information, without any delay, can be used in subsequent contacts with those who were called. In Ohio, it has allowed supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to make 3.3 million calls identifying supporters of the idea, making it far easier to contact them to urge them to vote on Election Day.
So while media outlets focus on showing the television ads that are bombarding the battleground states and obsessing on the endless polls, the real work of the campaigns that will probably decide the election is going on in the backroom where millions of paid and volunteer workers are organized. That you probably haven't heard about people like Mr. Whouley and Mr. Blackwell is no accident. Mr. Whouley is so camera-shy that photographs of him on the Internet are almost nonexistent.
Get-out-the-vote organizers want "minimal attention to their under-the-radar skid-greasing," as the online magazine Slate put it. They take pride that they are most often successful when no one outside their closed circle has ever heard of them. But these almost completely unknown specialists may make more difference than anyone in determining who wins next Tuesday.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
Comment on this column by clicking here.
10/18/04: We May HAVA Problem: Will provisional ballots be the new chads?
10/12/04: Getting Physical: Union thugs target Republicans
10/04/04: The Producer: Meet Mary Mapes, the crusading journalist behind CBS's current troubles
09/23/04: Ballots or Briefs? In election 2004, the man with the most lawyers may win
09/13/04: I'd Rather Be Blogging: CBS stonewalls as "guys in pajamas" uncover a fraud
08/30/04: Tryout Time: The 2008 presidential campaign gets under way in New York.
08/23/04: Why we're refighting Vietnam: Blame McCain-Feingold
08/18/04: Silence of the Lamb: C-SPAN cancels 'Booknotes'
08/16/04: Louisiana North: Why New Jersey is a pit of corruption
08/02/04: Patriotic liberalism
07/28/04: Caught in the Web: How Democrats mobilized online and other campaign tales
06/28/04: Bad ACTors: If Dems want honest elections, why did a Soros-backed group hire criminals to get out the vote?
06/21/04: This Time, Get It Right: Instead of "lawyering up," both parties should be working to prevent another Florida
06/14/04: Don't Pardon Their French: "Good government" Californians embrace the system that produced David Duke
06/07/04: Freedom's Team: How Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II won the Cold War
05/25/04: Don't Touch That Dial?
Radio hosts worry about the FCC's indecency regulations. What about political speech?
05/18/04: Anger Management: Dems start to realize that a campaign of hate won't beat President Bush
05/11/04: Will Sen. Kennedy turn out to be a political liability for John Kerry?
05/04/04: Buyer's Remorse: Dems start to worry that Kerry can't win
04/27/04: Arlen Specter's personality helps make him vulnerable in today's primary
04/20/04: Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks making laws should be a part-time job. He's right
03/23/04: Bragging of foreign support doesn't win many votes in America
03/16/04: The Vanishing Center: In both political parties, the defense of moderation is no virtue
03/09/04: A JFK-NBC Ticket? If Kerry wants to make things interesting, he'll consider Tom Brokaw for veep
03/02/04: As Virginia mulls a tax hike, all Americans should guard their wallets
02/24/04: Marriage of Inconvenience: Why same-sex nuptials make Democrats nervous
02/10/04: Republican Rot: Is Congress's GOP majority becoming as corrupt as the Democrats were?
02/03/04: Moore Trouble: Alabama's former chief justice may challenge Bush for the Religious Right vote
01/13/04: Rage of a Relic: Paul O'Neill is angry that the world has passed him by
01/06/04: Unintended Consequence: How Terry McAuliffe and James Carville created Howard Dean
09/03/03: The Anti-Dean: Why Hillary opposes the Democratic front-runner
06/27/03: The California jurist who may replace Justice O'Connor
06/02/03: Clinton the Hoover: Bill, Hillary and the Dems' political vacuum
05/27/03: Nerd Nirvana: Students are to the right of the faculty even at the U of Chicago
05/16/03: GOPers gain in the land of Humphrey and Mondale
04/28/03: With the war won, it's time for Bush to master the Senate
04/04/03: Is "diversity" on campus even a goal worth pursuing?
03/05/03: Sunday morning with the BBC
02/28/03: Shut Up, They Explained: If you can censor this, thank a teacher
02/21/03: Unmitigated Gaul:
Saddam isn't the only dictator with
whom Jacques Chirac is cozy
02/18/03: Growing number of black officials breaking ranks by calling for a more honest approach to race relations
01/31/03: Half and Half: Republicans have achieved parity among American voters
11/11/02: Sobering Thoughts: The GOP's cup runneth over? No, it's half empty
10/31/02: Blue Gray: California's governor answers a Nobel Prize winner with obscenities
10/14/02: Bad Hair Day: Did Montana Dems exploit antigay prejudice?
10/11/02: The kill-everything senate
09/30/02: Schroeder did what it took to win--but at what cost to Germany?
08/22/02: Buh-Bye Bob, So Long Cynthia : No amount of shouting could've saved Barr or McKinney
07/29/02: GOP: Get Over Panic --- Dems are vulnerable on corporate scandals, too
07/17/02: Not Just an Average Joe: A black GOPer may give Rep. Eliot Engel a run for his money
07/15/02: The McCain Mutiny-II
07/01/02: Opening the Schoolhouse Door: The politicians can't stop school choice now
06/20/02: The Body' Bows Out --- American politics will be duller without Jesse Ventura
06/06/02: It's time for President Bush to stand up to California's senators
05/16/02: A Court Intrigue: Procedural funny business in a racial-preference case
05/14/02: Thin moral ice: New revelations from a skater's Stasi files recall an oppressive era
05/09/02: Newark, Zimbabwe!?
05/02/02: Will Terror Leave Us No Choice? Teachers unions try to use Sept. 11 as an excuse for bad schools
04/23/02: The New Nixon? Al Gore plots his comeback
04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative
03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet
©2001, John H. Fund