Campaigns pull out stops to get voters to polls

Maryland's Democratic and Republican contenders for governor are sparing no effort to pull every last supporter to the polls Tuesday in a primary for which many voters aren't ready.

Likely voters can expect a barrage of phone calls and a flood of election-eve mail on behalf of the three Democrats and four Republicans seeking Maryland's top office. Television ads will try to sway the undecided up to the bitter end at least for campaigns that can afford that luxury — but the main focus will be on the ground game.


Candidates for governor and other offices will unleash hordes of campaign volunteers and staff. Democrat Anthony G. Brown's canvassers plan to reach the doors of 200,000 identified supporters, leaving reminders that the primary is Tuesday. Rivals Douglas F. Gansler and Heather R. Mizeur have similar phone or door-knocking blitzes in the works.

On the Republican side, Del. Ron George is sending out 187,000 brochures, timed to land in voters' mailboxes Monday. Front-runner Larry Hogan said his campaign will have called every likely GOP voter — every single one — by Tuesday.


Part of the job is to spread the word that the primary is in June, not September.

"It's amazing how many people don't know an election is going on, even with all the money that's been spent and all the politicians everywhere," Hogan said.

Outside groups are marshaling their forces, too.

Fred Mason, president of the state AFL-CIO, said that if a union member who has been identified as a supporter of an endorsed candidate hasn't voted by midafternoon Tuesday, one of an estimated 1,000 labor volunteers will get in touch.

"We call it 'knock and drag,' " he said.

The Democratic contest features Brown, Gansler and Mizeur. In the GOP race, Hogan, a former Ehrlich administration official, is trying to hold his lead against George, Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Charles County conservative activist Charles Lollar.

Pundits and pollsters forecast a low turnout. If the predictions come true, the races will be all the more unpredictable and the mobilization effort more crucial.

In the final days, what counts is voter-to-voter contact and a massive ground operation to get voters to the polls, said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


"It's retail politics, and TV ads don't get out vote," Norris said.

The winners from each party will face off in the general election Nov. 4. Also on the primary ballot is a spirited Democratic primary for Maryland attorney general and many hotly contested races for the General Assembly and at county levels across the state. Congressional representatives are also on the ballot, but no close contests are expected.

A poll conducted for The Baltimore Sun published this month found Brown leading his Democratic rivals by a more than 2-1 margin and Hogan equally dominant in the Republican field. But the same survey found a high number of undecided voters — especially in the lower-budget GOP primary.

Pollster Steve Raabe of OpinionWorks, which conducted the survey for The Sun, said neither front-runner can afford to let up before the polls close. Among the smaller Republican electorate, he said, an effective get-out-the-vote operation could mean as much as 5 to 10 percentage points for a candidate.

Raabe said an upset is less likely on the Democratic side because of Brown's strong support from groups and elected officials that endorsed him. But he cautioned that surprises are possible, especially in low-turnout elections.

"The last thing you want to do if you're ahead in the polls is to be caught sleeping," Raabe said.


Justin Schall, Brown's campaign manager, heartily agreed.

"The only way to run a race is as if there were no tomorrow and to take nothing for granted and to fight for every last vote," Schall said.

Gansler said he's still in the hunt.

"People are still very undecided — and persuadable," he said between campaign stops last week. "In the last minutes — the last days — of the campaign, reaching people still matters."

Mizeur compared her position to that of the Republican challenger who upset the U.S. House majority leader this month.

"If Eric Cantor can lose in Virginia, Heather Mizeur can win in Maryland," she told supporters in Frederick last week.


Despite increased turnout during this year's longer early voting period, the overwhelming majority of voters are expected to cast ballots Tuesday. Only 4.17 percent of the state's nearly 3.4 million eligible primary voters cast ballots during early voting, which ended Thursday. Thus, volunteers for candidates for offices from governor to central committee will be out in force.

Amid the prevailing apathy, which ensures that party nominees are chosen by a small minority of voters, many of those volunteers care deeply about who wins and plan to work tirelessly until the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Among the dedicated is Lara R. Westdorp of Braddock Heights in Frederick County, who has been mobilizing Democratic voters in Western Maryland to come out for Mizeur's candidacy.

Westdorp, a stay-at-home mother, said she plans to devote her Sunday and Monday to the humdrum tasks of ferrying Mizeur signs to polling places and doing data entry for the volunteer phone banks that will try to sway the undecided and herd supporters to the polls. On Tuesday, she'll be up early to put up signs at polling places and up late to take them down.

"It has to be done, and she's such a tremendous new voice in the chaos that is politics right now," Westdorp, 46, said at last week's Mizeur event at a Frederick coffee shop. "So few people seem to care. The moment they see Heather they start caring again."

The adrenaline is running no less high among Republican volunteers. Tammy Kelley from far western Howard County came to West Baltimore last week to hand out literature for Lollar at a meet-and-greet event. She's planning on coordinating volunteer activities at the polls Tuesday, regardless of The Sun poll showing Lollar's low-budget campaign far behind Hogan's.


"I think it may be underestimating the grass roots that we have and the passion of our voters," said Kelley, 40. "He's working triple-hard for us so we can make up for the lack of money."

Each campaign is adopting its own strategy for the campaign endgame.

In addition to contacting supporters, Schall said the Brown campaign has targeted another 100,000 to 150,000 Democrats without an identified preference and will knock on their doors Sunday and Monday.

Gansler's team plans to make 200,000 phone calls and knock on 25,000 doors from Sunday to Tuesday.

During a stop at Montgomery County's Leisure World retirement community last week, Gansler reminded supporters they have one important job. "Please don't forget to vote on Tuesday," he said. "Get the word out. It makes a difference."

Leisure World resident Suzanne Offit, 79, plans to spend several hours a day making calls from her home. "I'm going to call everyone I know, even if I don't know them that well," she said. "As long as I'm familiar with their names, I'm going to call and tell them why Doug should be governor."


Having started running ads much later than Brown or Gansler, Mizeur is putting the bulk of her remaining resources into her TV campaign, said campaign manager Joanna Belanger.

Belanger said the campaign's relatively small regular army of paid staff and core group of volunteers will be enough to staff the polls at target precincts in places such as Montgomery County and Baltimore. But she said there is also a statewide network of volunteers such as Westdorp acting semi-independently. If you see Mizeur signs or T-shirts at your polling place, she said, they were likely paid for by individuals, because the campaign couldn't afford them.

The Republican gubernatorial campaigns, less well funded than the poorest Democratic effort, are reaching out in their own ways.

Hogan will be in far western Garrett County on Sunday winding up a 14-day, 100-stop bus trip that took him to each of Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City.

Craig campaign manager Paul Ellington said he knows where his candidate's voters are and has a plan to focus efforts in those areas. He said the campaign will identify key polling places to staff Tuesday but won't be all over the state.

"I don't anticipate much of a turnout from Montgomery County or Prince George's County," he said.


Even the least-funded candidates promise extensive voter outreach

George, who lagged in The Sun's poll, said he will have about 400 volunteers going door to door Sunday and Monday. "I am excited about the grass roots. Our grass roots are huge, and it's below the radar," he said.

Lollar plans a particularly low-tech, low-cost finale. He said he'll have 500 volunteers all around the state waving signs at the same time Tuesday.

"We have the largest grass-roots footprint in the state," said Lollar. "We intend to use it to bring victory home for us."


Voting Tuesday

Eligible primary voters will go to the polls Tuesday to nominate candidates for governor, attorney general, Congress, the General Assembly and a long list of county and local offices. Except for school board races in 15 jurisdictions, voters must be registered with the Democratic or Republican parties in order to participate. The winners of Tuesday's election will be on the ballot in November, when all state voters go to the polls. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.