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Parties gear up for voter ‘ground war’

Groups push to get more voters to the polls on Election Day.
Sunday, October 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:28 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Candidates, political parties and get-out-the vote activists are in the final stages of a “knock-and-drag,” door-to-door campaign to get voters to the polls.

Democrats kicked off the weekend with a Thursday rally at MoJo’s, where former Gov. Roger Wilson, urged them on with religious-like fervor.

“I want Tuesday to get here, and I want us to take action,” he said.

Linda Jacobsen, who is challenging incumbent Republican Kenny Hulshof for the Ninth District congressional seat, encouraged supporters to work hard through Election Day.

“We’re almost, almost there, but we’re not there yet,” she said. “We still have to pull this one out. Talk to your neighbors. If the weather is bad on Election Day, call your friends and tease them. Ask: ‘Is the bad weather really going to keep you home?’”

Union members flanked U.S. Senate candidate Nancy Farmer as she spoke at the Boone County Democratic Headquarters earlier in the day. Farmer is running against incumbent Republican Kit Bond.

“It’s a ground war now,” said Farmer, who will travel to Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield, St. Louis and elsewhere in her campaign’s last days. “And there is no one I would rather have on the front line than the working men and women of Missouri.”

The Republican Party’s 72-Hour Campaign, comprised of phone banks and door-to-door canvassing, is under way this weekend. Local Republicans, however, didn’t want to talk about it for this story. They referred calls to the party’s St. Louis office, where representatives failed to return multiple calls.

Several other organizations are mounting significant get-out-the-vote efforts between now and Tuesday.

“We’ll do whatever it takes get people to the polls,” Matt Ewing, field organizer with MoveOn.org, said at a coordinating meeting Oct. 24 for the pro-John Kerry group. “We’ll offer day care, mow their lawns and offer rides — whatever it takes.”

MoveOn.org, one of several partisan and non-partisan groups expected to contribute to record voter turnout Tuesday, has spent the past several weeks going door-to-door in neighborhoods with high concentrations of infrequent or new voters. MU graduate students Connor McGowan and Stacy Small were canvassing last week at Eighth and Fairview streets.

Dennis Harlson, 46, who was hauling trash from an empty house for his landlord, told them he’s voting for the first time because he’s unhappy about the economy.

Grass Roots Organizing and the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, both non-partisan groups, are also targeting underrepresented communities. Both groups believe candidates largely ignore minorities and the poor because they don’t vote in large numbers.

On Wednesday, Grass Roots Organizing distributed fliers in Paquin Towers, a public housing community for adults with disabilities. The Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, despite bad weather, canvassed the First Ward.

“The candidates don’t substantially address the issues of the poor,” coalition member Rachel Wright said. “Why is this? The fact that middle-aged, middle-income people vote ensures that their interests are represented. If everyone voted, it wouldn’t be just the voices in suburbia that are represented in our political system, and we wouldn’t have all these concerns about special interests, either.”

Wright conceded, however, that some of those persuaded to vote might be let down if elections gets tied up in courts or if the outcomes don’t go their way.

“People are going to be very devastated if they get invested in the outcome and don’t get what they want,” said Wright. “Especially among new voters, this has the potential for disenfranchising people even more.”

Fellow coalition member Michelle Greene, however, said she has already talked to first-timers who cast absentee ballots. They told her that casting their first votes made them feel powerful.

Mary Hussmann of Grass Root Organizing said she’s seen promising enthusiasm.

“I’m 57 years old, and I have been doing this kind of work for a long time. I have never seen the enthusiasm I have seen this election. It’s amazing,” Hussmann said. “People know that there is a lot at stake, and they’re not just going home and pulling the covers over their head. They are going out and doing something about it.”


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