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Published: Sunday, 9/4/2005

'Ground game' takes over as mayoral candidates seek out voters

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Carty Finkbeiner rallies his supporters at a meeting yesterday. Carty Finkbeiner rallies his supporters at a meeting yesterday.
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One of the biggest unknowns in the Toledo mayoral primary could also be one of Mayor Jack Ford s best weapons for making the runoff:

Voter turnout.

As few as 16 percent and as many as nearly 40 percent of registered voters have cast ballots in primary elections since 1993, when Toledoans first elected a strong mayor.

It is a more than 30,000-vote spread to consider for candidates tallying how many votes they will need on Sept. 13 to make this year s runoff. In a heated four-way race for two slots in the Nov. 8 general election, the so-called ground game of identifying supporters and herding them to the polls could prove the difference.

The real question in a Toledo primary election is always who s going to vote, said Jim Ruvolo, a longtime political consultant who is advising Mr. Ford. In this primary, he added, I don t see a lot of people saying, this is an important election to vote in.

Polls peg Mr. Ford a distant second in Toledo s upcoming primary election, wrestling city Councilman Rob Ludeman and attorney Keith Wilkowski for the right to face former mayor Carty Finkbeiner in November.

Mr. Ford s struggle to advance is complicated by the fact that most poll respondents say they have already formed opinions about him more negatively than positively which analysts say leaves the mayor little chance of expanding his support by primary day.

His best advantage might be the ability to pull existing supporters to the ballot box.

Mayor Jack Ford takes time to eat with two Toledoans at the Polish Festival in July. Mayor Jack Ford takes time to eat with two Toledoans at the Polish Festival in July.
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Mr. Ford appears to boast the best-manned and most sophisticated field operation of any mayoral candidate, built over three decades of campaigning for public office.

He has hundreds of volunteers, his campaign manager says, who have worked since June to sift Mr. Ford s supporters from voter rolls so campaign workers can target them with the get-out-the-vote messages starting Friday.

You can t beat having a volunteer who s been committed to a candidate for as many years as they ve been committed to the mayor, said Megan Vahey, Mr. Ford s campaign manager.

Mr. Ford also has the most money to spend, a secret system for identifying the likeliest of voters through elections data, and a geographically identifiable base of support in the central city that makes Election Day knock-and-drag tactics find voters at home, bring them to the polls easier to employ.

Keith Wilkowski thanks voters. Keith Wilkowski thanks voters.
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Mr. Wilkowski has not run for elected office since he won a seat on the board of Lucas County commissioners in 1988. He entered the mayor s race in June, leaving him a few months to build a campaign operation from scratch.

His campaign manager, Jen Sorgenfrei, said Mr. Wilkowski s volunteers will call potential voters and drop fliers this week in a continued effort to get his name out.

Mr. Wilkowski recently launched a $90,000 broadcast and cable campaign, and Ms. Sorgenfrei said the campaign is more focused on the air war of television advertising than the ground game. She called identifying Mr. Wilkowski s support base, geographically or otherwise, a challenge.

He hasn t been on the ballot for 20 years, Ms. Sorgenfrei said. So we can t just say, last year, Ward 4 voted for Keith 60 percent, or whatever.

Mr. Ludeman, the only Republican among the four main contenders, is focusing his final push on phoning and direct-mail advertising.

Rob Ludeman meets fair-goers at July's Polish Festival. Rob Ludeman meets fair-goers at July's Polish Festival.
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He has comparatively little to spend on field operations, having raised less than $10,000 for the campaign; his opponents all claim more than $100,000. The local Republican party has promised a strong get-out-the-vote effort to help Mr. Ludeman and GOP city council candidates.

Mr. Finkbeiner s volunteers will phone supporters they ve identified throughout the campaign in the days before the election, said his spokesman, Bob Reinbolt. They will run a dawn patrol to post signs on Election Day and station other sign-wavers in clusters at intersections they dub Carty s Corners.

Turnout, Mr. Reinbolt said, is very important. I don t want complacency to set in just because the polls show higher numbers for us.

Some factors are beyond any campaign s control. Rain can depress turnout, for example. The last mayoral primary went on despite rumors it had been canceled: Election Day was Sept. 11, 2001.

Contact Jim Tankersley at: jtankersley@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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