COLUMBUS - Nic Cochran is 16 years old, but he has already learned one of the basic truths of politics.
Beyond the countless stump speeches and spin, elections are won or lost on Election Day.
And this year, in one of the most hotly-contested presidential races in American history, how that maxim plays out in Ohio may determine who wins the White House.
"Because I'm too young to vote, it's up to me to get more people to vote," said Nic, a Marietta High School student who wore a T-shirt with the message: "Ask me what you can do to help elect Kerry-Edwards."
"I have a bigger responsibility."
Nic was born two decades after Tom Noe, who at age 14, worked on his first political campaign in 1968 when Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey.
Yesterday, Mr. Noe - regional co-chairman of Mr. Bush's re-election campaign in northwest Ohio - was working on the logistics for Vice President Dick Cheney's rally today at Toledo Express Airport. On Friday, it was President Bush in Toledo, and on Wednesday it was Mr. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in Findlay.
Mr. Noe, 50, said he is "more confident than he's ever been" that the GOP will get out the vote Tuesday and deliver Ohio for Mr. Bush.
"It's the Bush-hating 527s versus the Bush lovers, and I've never seen anything like it," said Mr. Noe. He referred to the groups named after the section of the Internal Revenue Service code under which they are formed.
Two days before Election Day, the battleground of Ohio is crowded.
Yesterday, Mr. Cheney campaigned in Zanesville. Six hours earlier and about 45 miles away, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards gave a speech in Marietta. His wife, Elizabeth, also made two campaign stops in Ohio.
Rocker Jon Bon Jovi joined Mr. Kerry at yesterday's rally in Warren, and Mr. Kerry plans to attend church this morning in Dayton. Mr. Edwards plans to stump in Columbus, with his wife meeting voters in Cleveland churches.
Mr. Bush will speak at a rally in Cincinnati tonight, and he plans to visit Wilmington tomorrow morning for a rally with Mrs. Bush, who will also visit Cleveland.
Mr. Kerry and rocker Bruce Springsteen will hold an election eve rally in Cleveland tomorrow night, and Mr. Edwards will campaign in Cincinnati.
Several months ago, when Mr. Kerry's campaign and Democratic groups proved they could raise enough money to compete with Mr. Bush to buy TV ads, the focus shifted to the "ground war" that could determine who wins Ohio's 20 electoral votes Tuesday.
The Bush campaign says it has recruited 85,612 volunteers in Ohio and by yesterday, they had made 2,406,788 volunteer phone calls to Ohioans in support of Mr. Bush, knocked on 349,032 doors, and hosted 3,254 parties to build energy for Mr. Bush's re-election.
"We have an unbelievable grass-roots infrastructure executing the largest get-out-the-vote in the history of Ohio,'' said Ken Mehlman, Mr. Bush's campaign manager. "They'll be out talking to friends and neighbors, and reminding voters of the critical choices they have."
The "grass-roots leadership" consists of nine regional chairmen, 114 county chairs, and 12,132 precinct chairs.
Earlier this year, Mr. Bush's campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va. said GOP chairmen in Ohio's 88 counties had to form steering committees and document they were recruiting 51,000 volunteers, which the New York Times Magazine referred to as a "Amway-style organizational pyramid."
Mr. Mehlman said the approach will prove successful on Tuesday.
"The bottom-up approach we have taken, encouraging as much participation as possible, has worked because we're putting our efforts behind the grass-roots volunteers instead of paid workers from out of state," he said.
Brendon Cull, a spokesman for the Democratic coordinated campaign in Ohio, replied: "Their campaign works like this. They get a memo from D.C. and then they execute that. Our campaign is for Ohioans to talk with other Ohioans about what the issues are that matters."
Democrats referred to the "ground game" of the Bush campaign in Ohio as "puny."
The Kerry backers said they have an average of 27,957 volunteers contacting voters each night, have made 3,019,798 volunteer phone calls and knocked on 549,451 doors since Aug. 8, and have 48,261 volunteers scheduled and trained to get out the vote on Tuesday.
Mr. Cull said the numbers are based on what roughly 170,000 volunteers for Mr. Kerry's campaign have documented. Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said he did not believe the Kerry campaign had twice as many volunteers as the Bush campaign.
Mr. Cull said the Democrats nailed down their longtime voters in Ohio several months ago, enabling Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards to campaign in rural areas in search of swing and independent voters.
The Bush campaign's strategy in Ohio has relied solely on winning by turning out its traditional base, Mr. Cull asserted.
"If they understood Ohio, they would have known that they needed to spend time with undecided and swing voters. They have not done any of that," he said.
It's a charge that the Bush campaign rejects.
"From the beginning, in a state like Ohio, you have to reach out to Democrats and independents in a big way, and we have focused on that with voter registration and grass-roots development," said Mr. Mehlman, the President's campaign manager.
Mr. Mehlman said the Bush campaign believes it will win a larger share of black and Jewish voters on Tuesday. In 2000, Mr. Gore carried 90 percent of the black vote and 79 percent of the Jewish vote nationwide.
Nic Cochran, the Marietta High School student, said it is a sprint to Election Day - hours consumed by literature drops, phone calls to voters, and preparations to get people to the polls Tuesday.
"We're phone-banking 24/7. I go around every day wearing something that says John Kerry: T shirts, buttons, and pins. I'm hoping my work will convince young people to vote for the Democrats," he said.
Even though Vice President Al Gore pulled out of Ohio three weeks before Election Day in 2000, Ms. Bush carried the state by only 3.5 percentage points.
"My guess is the people who did the bad job four years ago were the Republicans," said Mr. Noe. "With all these appearances, the campaign has done a tremendous job to help us get the vote out."
Contact James Drew at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.
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