As Obama Stumps, GOP's Grass Roots Grow
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
November's midterm election is just over two weeks away and President Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail. Tonight, he holds a big rally at Ohio State University. The event is designed to boost Democratic enthusiasm and voter turnout, especially among younger voters. Republicans are also shifting their focus to getting out the vote.
NPR's Don Gonyea attended a small GOP event yesterday in Marysville, Ohio.
DON GONYEA: The event with the president tonight in Columbus will be one of those big blockbuster political rallies. Yesterday's Republican Party Get Out the Vote breakfast in Marysville had no such ambitious.
Mr. JOHN GORE (Marysville Republican Party): Folks, if I can get your attention for a moment. I apologize we're a little late getting started. We have eggs and sausage and doughnuts and coffee. The coffee is caffeinated.
GONYEA: That's John Gore. He's with the local Republican Party. He organized the event with Marysville's mayor, Chris Schmenk. She says the GOP has worked hard to improve its get out the vote operations, which were primitive compared to what the Obama campaign built and put to use two years ago.
Ms. CHRIS SCHMENK (Mayor, Marysville, Ohio): Yeah, yeah. I think we learned. I think we learned from the 2008 elections that we couldn't take our base for granted, that we needed to really pay attention and to get out there.
GONYEA: Democrats are widely considered to still have the edge in ground operations - that's been the case for years. But Schmenk says when it comes to enthusiasm, Republicans have a big advantage over Democrats this year.
Ms. SCHMENK: You know, I think they don't have a good message this time. They can't fight what's happened and what's gone wrong with the economy.
Unidentified Woman: There we go.
Unidentified Man: Use your spoon and see if you can't (unintelligible).
GONYEA: This scene in a parking lot in Marysville is being duplicated all across the state this weekend. About 60 volunteers showed up here at 8:30 yesterday morning to get marching orders for door-to-door canvassing. It's old school traditional stuff, but veterans of this kind of campaign activity see signs of progress.
Forty-three-year-old Amy Mierta of Marysville says that door knocking has gotten, quote, "more scientific."
Let's talk about that. What's different this time?
Ms. AMY MIERTA: Well, we have a list, so we can see exactly who we're talking to.
GONYEA: Now, that seems very basic, but Mierta says she now knows the names of the registered voters who live in houses she walks up to. That's new. And she's knocking on doors of Republican voters only, so every address on the list Mierta holds is a likely supporter of the GOP slate in Ohio. So, the whole process is much more efficient.
Ms. MIERTA: Yeah, I would say more detailed, more specific, yeah. Last time, we just kind of went door to door.
GONYEA: And this day is about making sure likely supporters know they can vote now under early voting. And while this particular event reveals no massive leap for the GOP when it comes to the ground operation, it is an improvement. And it's just one small piece of the puzzle, all of which is designed to support the blitz of TV and radio ads in an area where Republicans do have a big advantage this year, thanks to money being spent by non-party outside groups.
Democrats, meanwhile, have their own full schedule of get-out-the-vote activities. This is from a Democratic event in Columbus Friday night. The speaker is Ohio State Treasurer Kevin Boyce.
Mr. KEVIN BOYCE (State Treasurer, Ohio): Get on your BlackBerrys tonight and text everybody in it. Get on your e-mails tonight and email everybody in your database and say: Have you voted? And then challenge all of those people to roll up their sleeves, dig in and help us bring this election home.
GONYEA: Democrats are pushing back hard against any ambivalence and apathy among the faithful, knowing that's what hurt the GOP so much two years ago. Republicans, meanwhile, say they have no such worries this year.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Marysville.
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