Election 2008


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Renee Montagne is traveling today. I'm Steve Inskeep, good Morning. This fall's election may be decided in part by a handful of states that President Bush carried in 2004. Those are states that Barack Obama wants to win, and they're states that John McCain absolutely needs to keep. The prime example is the state we're going next. NPR's David Greene is tracking the effort to get voters to the polls in Ohio.

DAVID GREENE: So, just some perspective. Football was more important than politics this weekend.

(Soundbite of football fans yelling)

GREENE: Everyone, it seemed, was obsessing about the Ohio State-Penn State game, which Ohio State lost. Either way, football was the backdrop to everything. Lauren Anderson, a McCain volunteer, said they watch every Buckeye game in the office, looking for the nail-biting moment.

Ms. LAUREN ANDERSON (McCain Campaign Volunteer): Because if we call people then, they start screaming into the phone, yelling at the teams.

GREENE: Or yelling at the campaign worker for interrupting. When it wasn't game time this weekend, Lauren, a 21-year-old college student, was with other volunteers. They were walking the streets of Butler County, an outer suburb of Cincinnati that's tended to vote conservative. Voters there turned out big for President Bush in 2004.

Ms. ANDERSON: We're just doing a really brief survey. Would it be all right if I ask you a couple of quick questions?

Unidentified Woman #1: Real quick.

Ms. ANDERSON: OK. Are you planning on supporting McCain and Palin this November?

Unidentified Woman #1: Yes.

Ms. ANDERSON: OK. And are you voting by absentee...

I'd like to ask you a very few brief questions for a survey?

Unidentified Man #1: I'm really right in the middle of something right now.

Ms. ANDERSON: OK. Well, sorry for that. Would you like a packet of information?

(Soundbite of roadwork)

Ms. ANDERSON: Very brief. We're just - oh no, you don't even have to. I don't want to bother you too much. We're just wondering if you're supporting McCain and Palin this November.

Unidentified Man #2: Yep.

GREENE: At this late stage, most of these visits are about making sure people plan to vote. They may seem like casual conversations, but the doors to knock on and the questions to ask are carefully planned out in places like McCain's Ohio headquarters in Columbus.

PAULA(ph) (McCain Campaign Volunteer): Hi, this is Paula. I'm a volunteer calling on behalf of the Ohio Republican Party.

GREENE: In 2000 and 2004, even Democrats marveled at the GOP ground game. The party perfected the science of micro-targeting voters. Paul Lindsay, a McCain official here, said their technology's only gotten better and more efficient.

Mr. PAUL LINDSAY (McCain Campaign Official): These are VOIP phones, Voice over Internet Protocol.

GREENE: As gadgety as that sounds, these VOIP phones do a lot. They look like your average desktop phone, but they have a screen. The name of a voter pops up. A volunteer can read the questions to ask.

PAULA: I'm just calling to make sure that you've received your absentee ballot in the mail.

GREENE: These volunteers then get their answers and punch them right into the phone.

Mr. LINDSAY: When these volunteers then go out on the weekends to do door-to-door and to do canvassing, you know, they know what the response was on the phone. They know that this person might be a teacher. She might think that education is an important issue to her.

GREENE: The McCain campaign is confident in its battle-tested technology. They also know what they're up against.

(Soundbite of Obama pep talk to campaign volunteers)

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): We've been deciding, and we've been engineering, and we've been at the drawing board. We've been tinkering, and we've been - now is the time to just go and take it for a drive.

GREENE: Barack Obama was in Columbus a few weeks ago, telling a ballroom full of volunteers that the time had come to put his vast organization to the test. In Ohio, Obama's outspent McCain on organizing. He has doubled the number of campaign offices.

Unidentified Man #3: We're the Barack Obama campaign. We're just, you know, encouraging everybody to go out and vote.

Unidentified Woman #2: OK. Already did.

Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, good.

GREENE: That is the sound of what the Obama campaign says is their greatest strength, volunteers who have been working their own neighborhoods for months. People like Mike Boulware, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Columbus. And said he's kicking himself for not organizing in 2004.

Mr. MIKE BOULWARE (Retired Schoolteacher): Both my wife and I are active in the Obama campaign. If we could have done more during the last election, because it was such a close election, maybe the current president wouldn't be the president.

GREENE: Obama volunteers like Mike are going door-to-door or calling and texting people. And a new ABC News poll found that in eight tossup states, including Ohio, 42 percent of voters said they'd been contacted by the Obama campaign. Twenty-nine percent said the McCain campaign's reached out. Linda Paxton got a visit from Mike Boulware and his team. She said her apartment complex, just on the outskirts of the city of Columbus, has been an epicenter of political activity.

Ms. LINDA PAXTON: I haven't seen any Republicans come knocking on my door, though.

GREENE: Now Linda didn't have much time to talk. Buckeyes Football.

Ms. PAXTON: I'm getting ready to go to the game.

GREENE: The same with half the state of Ohio, it seemed. The campaigns are just hoping for that kind of enthusiasm next Tuesday. David Greene, NPR News, Columbus.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at photos of volunteers in action, which you can find at npr.org.

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