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Obama, McCain focus on get-out-the-vote campaigns for Mo. voters

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 | 10:34 a.m. CDT; updated 9:23 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY  — The sales pitch has been made. Now it's time to close the deal for thousands of presidential campaign volunteers who have been contacting Missourians on behalf of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

With polls still showing the race about even in Missouri, the presidential campaigns are switching their emphasis from persuading the undecided to motivating those with their minds made up.

"At this point, you figure people have been inundated with information for months about the candidates; they generally know everything they're going to know about the candidates and have probably made up their mind about who they're going to vote for," Peverill Squire, political scientist at MU, said Monday. "The next question is how do you get them to show up on Election Day?"

Election officials project that three-fourths of Missouri's 4.2 million registered voters will turn out to vote Nov. 4.

Missouri campaign managers for McCain and Obama have adopted somewhat different approaches. But both are confident in their ability to get supporters to the polls.

The Obama campaign has spent months building a local network of supporters in Missouri. It opened 44 field offices, while the McCain campaign has 16 full-time offices.

Obama's campaign also created 400 "neighborhood teams," each responsible for coordinating efforts in eight to 12 precincts that could cover anywhere from a few city blocks to an entire county, said Obama's Missouri director, Buffy Wicks. Each team is focused on about 3,700 Obama supporters. And each team has volunteer directors for local canvassing, phone banks, data management and volunteer recruitment, she said.

"It's different than what other campaigns have done in the past," Wicks said. "These teams together write their own field plan and know what their vote goal is — how many votes they need to get out in their area.

"We're giving average folks the keys to the campaign, literally," Wicks said.

Because of its structural preparations, Obama's campaign probably will do better than other national Democratic candidates have done recently in getting Missourians to the polls, Squire said.

Missouri Republicans outdid Democrats in get-out-the-vote efforts in 2004 and 2000. McCain's campaign plans to follow the same basic 72-hour strategy used successfully in the past.

To lay the groundwork, McCain volunteers have made more than 1 million contacts with Missourians this fall, said Gentry Collins, McCain's regional campaign manager for Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. That's ahead of the pace set in 2004 by Republican President Bush's re-election effort, he said.

In recent weeks, the McCain campaign has also done four tests of its get-out-the-vote effort, checking such mundane things as the phone lines, its distribution system for literature and its staging sites for volunteers going door to door. For the final weekend before the election, McCain's campaign plans to set operations in every county to make phone calls to supporters.

"There is certainly some persuasion component among the undecided, but the final 72-hour push really is dedicated to turning out people who have decided their support for us," Collins said.

McCain's campaign didn't release specific targets for the number of phone calls and door knockings it hopes to make. Obama's campaign said that during the final four days before the election, it plans to have 25,000 volunteers knocking on 1.3 million doors and making over one-half million phone calls.

During a Saturday conference call, Obama gave a brief pep talk to an estimated 2,500 of his Missouri volunteer leaders and said he probably would make one more Missouri campaign stop before Election Day.

"Every door matters, every conversation matters, every phone call matters," Obama told his volunteers. "Missouri is one of the toughest battleground states in the country, and the only way we're going to win is if you do your part."

Obama's campaign announced Monday that the candidate will appear Thursday night in Columbia for a rally at MU. Also on Thursday, McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is scheduled to take part in a morning event in Cape Girardeau.

A poll of 800 likely Missouri voters conducted Oct. 20 to 23 showed Obama with 48 percent support and McCain with 47 percent, well within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by Maryland-based Research 2000 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and television station KMOV.

In "a swing state with a history of voting for the winner in the presidential elections, where the margin is very, very close, the get-out-the-vote effort could be the difference between winning and losing," said Collins, McCain's regional campaign manager.


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