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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Ground game grunts gird for campaign s last sprint

BY STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A month ago, David Buley, 45, of Centerville, Ohio, quit his job to work as a full-time volunteer for John McCain.

It is something I needed to do, said Mr. Buley, 45, who worked in supply-chain operations helping with business turnaround efforts, as he waited on Tuesday for a visit by Samuel Joe the Plumber Wurzelbacher at Dublin Pub in downtown Dayton.

This is probably the most important election since I began voting in 1980.

Mr. Buley admittedly called his decision to become jobless, which received the blessing of his wife, a dangerous one, especially as Ohio bleeds jobs but it had to be done, he said.

In these final days, Senator McCain of Arizona, a Republican, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democrat, are relying more then ever on the passion of people like Mr. Buley to help them win Ohio on Tuesday.

Winning Ohio, many pundits say, is paramount to winning the presidency.

Both campaigns are taking that as a directive. And the numbers show it:

• Mr. McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, spent all or part of 31 days in Ohio since Aug. 1, compared with 21 days spent in Ohio by Mr. Obama and his running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden. The candidates spouses and surrogates, including former President Bill Clinton, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Mr. Wurzelbacher, the now-famous plumber from Springfield Township also have stumped numerous times on the campaign trail in Ohio.

• From Oct. 21 to Oct. 28, the campaigns spent nearly $38 million on television advertising nationally, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. Mr. Obama spent $1.9 million on television advertising in Ohio, with Mr. McCain spending $753,000. The Republican National Committee chipped in $999,000 for television ads in Ohio on behalf of the McCain campaign.

• Both camps have deployed large groups of lawyers to work Election Day in preparation for any problems that may arise at the polls, although the total numbers of attorneys counseling the parties in Ohio is unclear.

But beyond the face time with the candidates, the often out-of-state lawyers, and the fancy television ads, the campaigns are betting that the election will come down to the long hours and grunt work of volunteers known as the ground game in the lead-up to Election Day.

During a major push over two weeks in October, the Obama campaign reported that thousands of volunteers went door-to-door in Ohio, knocking on nearly 850,000 doors.

In one week in mid-October, the campaign said it placed 691,858 phone calls across the state.

In total, the campaign has spread out 250,000 yard signs across Ohio, Mr. Obama s campaign said.

We are focused on reaching our supporters and turning them out to vote in record numbers, said Isaac Baker, a spokesman for the Obama campaign. Our commitment to campaigning in every corner of Ohio has generated tremendous grass-roots support for Senator Obama and his agenda to strengthen our economy and create new jobs.

Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for Mr. McCain in Ohio, refused to release the campaign s voter contact numbers until after the election.

We know we have a superior grass-roots program and we are happy to talk about voter contact numbers on Nov. 5 after Barack Obama is rejected by the voters of Ohio, Mr. Lindsay said.

Using Bush know-how

Mr. Lindsay said the campaign has used its know-how from helping President Bush win Ohio in 2000 and 2004 to spur efforts before this election.

We have only expanded on the program that has been successful in this state and our volunteers are battle-tested and know the keys to electing John McCain and Sarah Palin in Ohio, he said.

Herb Asher, a political scientist at Ohio State University, said there are noticeable differences in the ground game this year from previous elections. For example, Mr. Asher noted that Democrats are focusing more broadly on the entire state, rather than putting all of their resources in urban centers, and Democrats are using more Ohioans than out-of-state campaign workers than in the past. A stronger Ohio Democratic Party, fresh off major gains in the 2006 midterm elections, also is helpful, he said.

Substantially better

The Democrats ground game this year is substantially better than it was four years ago, Mr. Asher said.

The Republicans, who were already well-organized in Ohio, have gotten better too, especially when it comes to allocating resources and using voter outreach technology, he said.

The Republicans have traditionally had a strong game, which is based on incorporating technology with a friends and neighbors approach, Mr. Asher said.

Mr. Asher doesn t expect either campaign to let up in Ohio in the waning days of the campaign.

You ll see high-intensity right up until Election Day here in Ohio, Mr. Asher said.

Fund-raising

The end-stage ground game is a direct result of the massive fund-raising operations by both campaigns. Nationally, Mr. Obama has collected $639.2 million, nearly double the $335.3 million raised by Mr. McCain.

But despite the large national disparity in financial resources, Ohio is surprisingly close when it comes to campaign cash. Mr. Obama s supporters in Ohio have made $5.97 million in contributions, edging Mr. McCain s Ohio contribution tally of $5.54 million.

The comparable amounts raised by each campaign in Ohio show the closeness of the race, says Catherine Turcer, the legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a watchdog group.

A lot of time all you need to do is look at the money to look how close a race is and how hot it is, Ms. Turcer said. In Ohio, this is a knockdown, drag-out brawl and the numbers would reflect that. That disparity is really telling as far as how we are a state divided.

A good chunk of the money collected in Ohio arrived through bundlers fund-raisers who pledge to use their personal and business networks to collect contributions from others on behalf of the campaign. In Ohio, Mr. Obama has five bundlers, who raised at least $600,000, while Mr. McCain s Ohio operation has 15 elite fund-raisers who collected at least $2.1 million for his campaign.

In his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, President Bush perfected the use of bundling, signing on a national network of fund-raisers nicknamed either Pioneers or Rangers based on whether they raised at least $100,000 or at least $200,000 for his campaign. Some of the fund-raisers many of whom have business relationships with the state and federal government enjoyed access to President Bush and his key staff, state and federal appointments, photo opportunities with the President, and invitations to parties and barbecues.

Obama campaign volunteer Charsena Braswell, left, talks with Lisa Jelks outside Ms. Jelks  Old West End home. Obama campaign volunteer Charsena Braswell, left, talks with Lisa Jelks outside Ms. Jelks Old West End home.
JETTA FRASER / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

In Ohio, three Bush Rangers and one Bush Pioneer signed on to raise money for Mr. McCain s campaign.

None of John Kerry s top Ohio fund-raisers from his unsuccessful 2004 presidential bid is listed among Mr. Obama s bundlers.

Noticeably missing from Mr. McCain s bundler list is Tom Noe, a former Toledo-area rare-coin dealer, who was a Bush Pioneer in 2004. He was released from federal prison in Florida last week after serving nearly two years for using conduits to make more than $45,000 in illegal contributions to President Bush s re-election campaign.

Ms. Turcer said one of the pitfalls of bundling programs is that they can provide an avenue for supporters to avoid campaign contribution limits.

All we really have to do is look at Tom Noe s case, said Mrs. Turcer, noting that none of the two dozen conduits used by Noe was prosecuted by the federal government. It begs people to break the law. It lays out a map for great networking, but it lays out a game plan for how people can break the law and not get caught.

In the aftermath of Noe s federal conviction, former state officeholders, and former Lucas County commissioner Maggie Thurber, former Toledo mayor Donna Owens, current Toledo city councilman Betty Shultz, and former state Rep. Sally Perz, were convicted in state court on ethics charges for failing to disclose as gifts the money Noe gave them to contribute to President Bush. All were ordered to pay fines.

In addition to his campaign contributions case, Noe also was convicted in 2006 of stealing millions of dollars from a $50 million rare-coin fund he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. A Lucas County jury convicted Noe on 29 counts and a judge sentenced him to prison for 18 years, a sentence he began serving last week. Noe is appealing his conviction and sentence.

The turmoil left behind by Noe, northwest Ohio chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign and a former Lucas County Republican Party chairman, left the local party in shambles and without its biggest fund-raiser heading into the 2008 presidential election season.

The local party has risen to the challenge, said Jon Stainbrook, who emerged as chairman of the county party earlier this year.

I tried to drag in every Joe the Plumber I could get, said Mr. Stainbrook, referring to Mr. Wurzelbacher, who became the centerpiece of Mr. McCain s campaign after the plumber s his impromptu questioning of Senator Obama last month.

That s who you get to build a party. You get people involved. You get them excited, Mr. Stainbrook said.

Mr. Stainbrook said Lucas County volunteers have surpassed everyone s expectations, making more than 300,000 phone calls and knocking on 47,000 doors for Mr. McCain over the last few months.

On two days, Mr. Stainbrook said, Lucas County volunteers recorded more house visits than in any other county in Ohio. On one occasion, Lucas County volunteers knocked on more doors in the county than volunteers in the entire state of Wisconsin, he said.

In October, the Obama campaign in Lucas County said volunteers knocked on 110,045 doors and placed 101,188 calls.

During long hours of working phone banks and knocking on doors, Mr. Stainbrook said he makes sure there s pizza and popcorn offered to volunteers.

It s a departure from days when Noe, and his wife, Bernadette Noe, also a former Lucas County GOP chairman, ran the party, he said.

When the Noes were here, they had buffet luncheons and suppers for the people in the phone bank, Mr. Stainbrook said. That s great, but I don t have that kind of money. Now you realize where that money came from.

Plus, pizza brings out the hardest workers anyway.

Pizza will get the college Republicans, Mr. Stainbrook said.

Contact Steve Eder at:seder@theblade.com or 419-304-1680.



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