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With tight presidential race down to the wire, ground-gamers prod potential voters | Palm Beach Post

Nov 01, 2012 — TALLAHASSEE — A frenzy of phone calls, social media posts and house-to-house door-knocking is consuming the presidential race’s final days, as the data-rich campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney lock into a desperate fight to push voters to the polls in swing state Florida. The National Rifle Association, tea party…

Nov 01, 2012 —

TALLAHASSEE — A frenzy of phone calls, social media posts and house-to-house door-knocking is consuming the presidential race’s final days, as the data-rich campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney lock into a desperate fight to push voters to the polls in swing state Florida.

The National Rifle Association, tea party groups and social conservatives are leading efforts for Romney, while labor unions and the NAACP are those aiding Obama in the homestretch.

Both camps also are dispatching allies this week to woo Hispanics, women and students.

The ground war to mobilize voters is escalating by the hour as each side acknowledges the effort may prove decisive in settling the drum-tight presidential contest in the nation’s biggest battleground state.

A Quinnipiac University poll Wednesday showed Obama leading 48-47 percent over Romney, an edge within the survey’s margin of error. Pollsters said the race in Florida is too close to call.

“We are trying to touch voters at least seven times,” said Gary Marx, national executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which has 160 volunteers scattered across Florida urging social conservatives to the polls.

“That might mean, three pieces of mail, three phone calls and a visit from a volunteer,” Marx said. “It’s now all about marketing. You use the same tactic whether it’s introducing a McRib sandwich or getting voters to think about voting for Mitt Romney.”

The Faith and Freedom Coalition, started by former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, has launched a get-out-the-evangelical vote effort across 15 key states including Florida, aimed at increasing turnout for Romney.

Romney had a three-city fly-around Wednesday in Florida, his second such tour in five days.

The Obama campaign this week held early voting events targeting women, college students and minorities.

Obama skipped a Monday rally at the University of Central Florida as Hurricane Sandy raged in the Northeast, but former President Bill Clinton campaigned in his place.

Michelle Obama is scheduled today to visit three cities in Florida, including a Jacksonville appearance with Stevie Wonder. Jesse Jackson stumped in Daytona Beach on Wednesday.

Democratic-allied organizations are targeting black and younger voters by reminding them about Florida’s new election laws that reduced early voting from 14 days to eight and made it tougher for voters, such as college students, who move from one county to another, to cast ballots.

Florida New Majority, a Democratic-leaning group, is pinpointing what it calls “low-propensity” voters, who only occasionally participate in elections.

Since June, executive director Gihan Perera said, his volunteers have been trying to make at least three in-person contacts with black, Hispanic and lower-income voters identified as less-likely to cast ballots.

Pledges have been collected from 44,000 of those people contacted.

“We think that if we move that 44,000 people who are not counted by anybody and get them to the polls, that can make the big difference in this election, as tight as it is,” Perera said.

Jose Mallea, southeast regional director for the Libre Initiative, a Hispanic advocacy organization, has been sending volunteers to Orlando and Jacksonville, promoting business entrepreneurship that mirrors themes of the Romney campaign.

“We don’t promote one candidate,” Mallea said. “But if a voter asks, we will show how the candidates’ positions are different.”

Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, said his nonprofit organization has contacted 140,000 college-age and young professionals in Florida as part of its get-out-the-vote effort.

Generation Opportunity isn’t supporting either presidential candidate, Conway said. But it has found young voters are concerned about the lack of job opportunities, increased federal spending and the national debt.

“We are trying to get these millennial to take a pledge to go vote,” Conway said.

The nonpartisan National Coalition of Black Civil Participation is targeting black voters under 35, who make up 40 percent of black voters, and women.

“If the young people don’t vote and black women don’t vote, that’s a bad year for the black vote,” said NCBCP President Melanie Campbell. “So for us, it’s very, very targeted in terms of turnout.”

The science of the campaign ground game has improved in recent years as both Democrats and Republicans embrace hard lessons learned in the 2000 presidential race in Florida, when George W. Bush won the White House by 537 votes.

Four years later, Bush easily defeated Democrat John Kerry in Florida after presidential adviser Karl Rove developed a strategy of driving turnout in the state’s rural and newly developed suburban counties.

A 456,000-vote increase in these regions fueled Bush’s winning margin. In just five counties – Brevard, Polk, Lake, Hillsborough and Pasco – Bush gained 99,000 votes over his 2000 performance, Democratic analysts concluded.

“We’ve taken the 2004 Bush model, put in 2012 technology, and have created a turnout effort on steroids,” said Brett Doster, a Romney campaign senior strategist in Florida.

Doster said the Romney supporters have made 10.5 million voter contacts in Florida, recently at a pace of as many as 1.5 million per-week.

In response to Obama’s strong 2008 turnout, which helped him carry the state, Romney is putting more attention into non-traditional GOP voting pockets, Doster said.

“We’re looking at non-Cuban Hispanics, rural registered Democrats in the Panhandle, and Jewish voters in Southeast Florida,” Doster said. “If we can get those voters, it’s a two-fer. We gain one, and the Obama campaign loses one.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, scoffed at such tactics while meeting early voters Wednesday in Delray Beach with former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an ex-Republican now campaigning for Obama.

But when asked about “Obama Oy Vey,” and other anti-Obama, Jewish-voter-targeted billboards in Palm Beach County, Deutch was dismissive. “They’re wasting their money,” he said.

Through Tuesday, the state’s Division of Elections reported that more than 2.6 million Floridians had cast ballots by mail or in-person. Registered Democrats accounted for 43 percent of the vote; Republicans 40 percent and non-party registrants another 17 percent.

Republicans lead in absentee ballots cast. But Democrats dominate in early voting – a trend the Obama campaign said will continue and is expected to be supplemented by the arrival of those sporadic voters it targeted.

“We think this race is a dead heat down here with likely voters,” said Obama senior adviser David Plouffe. “There’s a whole bunch of people that aren’t saying they’re not going to vote, they’re just not sure.

“We’ve got to find them and we’ve got to convince them to vote,” Plouffe said.

This article was published in the Palm Beach Post. View full article here.