PHILADELPHIA -- It is 5:30 on a Friday afternoon, and Mayor Ed Rendell is holding forth at the K&A; -- for cross-streets Kensington and Allegheny -- stop on the Market-Frankford el.
"Don't forget to vote Nov. 5," he urges commuters, some of whom tuck their lunch boxes under their arms and pause to shake hands. "We've got to help the president."
Rendell is linebacker-big, with a voice to match, so he is hard to miss. And he has a aide with a bullhorn urging Philadelphians to "come shake hands with the mayor" and then to vote Election Day. "Boot the Newt," the bullhorn blares.
It is not a neighborhood of pretension. From the corner where Rendell is holding forth, he can see three pawn shops and three check-cashing centers. And some who come lurching up to shake hands concede that they aren't registered and, to tell you the truth, weren't really keeping up with the election. After dark, the locals confide, the area is a mecca for drug peddlers and hookers.
But there are also voters, and Rendell is turning up on corners like this one almost every day, trying to maximize the turnout Tuesday.
This is what the presidential campaign has come down to in Pennsylvania, the fifth-most-populous state and usually one of the most hotly contested. This time, the only question is the size of President Clinton's margin in winning the 23 electoral votes.
The campaign here has been essentially featureless. Clinton led Bob Dole by 16 to 18 percentage points when the primaries ended in June, and he leads by about the same margin today. Dole made several forays into the state,and the Republicans spent heavily on television through the summer, never to any visible effect.
Two weeks ago, the Dole campaign scuttled its advertising program, and a week later the Clinton campaign did the same. Although Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped in for a fund-raiser Sunday, and the president himself visited last week, the Keystone State has been otherwise ignored.
But Rendell and other Democrats here are trying to turn out a substantial vote -- partly in response to the low turnout two years ago that may have cost a Democratic incumbent, Harris Wofford, his Senate seat, which he lost by 88,000 votes.
The mayor makes his case in terms of having a friend in Washington. In the first three years of the Clinton administration, he tells all comers, Philadelphia received $1 billion more from the federal government than during the same period under President George Bush, a Republican.
"It does make a material difference to this city to have a Democratic president," Rendell says.
The effect of the tepid Democratic performance in Philadelphia in 1994 was clear.
In 1992, Clinton had carried the city by almost 300,000 votes -- the lion's share of his statewide plurality of 447,000. By contrast, in winning the governorship two years ago, Tom Ridge, a Republican, held his Democratic opponent to a plurality in the city of only 160,000.
The Democrats are not alone in the turnout business.
"We're really working hard on that," the governor said in a telephone interview. "We're going to make a half-million telephone calls."
One high priority, he said, is the Legislature, with the House and half the Senate at stake.
Alan Novak, the Republican state chairman, is insistent that the de facto surrender of the Dole campaign won't hurt other Republicans. "It's not going to change what our plan is," he said in an interview in his Harrisburg office. "The voter contact, voter turnout programs continue as they were drawn, fully funded."
The other Republicans, Novak said, became aware in September that the presidential campaign was a problem and focused on their own plans. "There is no way they are tied to the success of the ticket," he said.
But much of the starch has been taken out of the Republicans by Dole's decision to put all his eggs in the California basket and essentially cede the industrial-belt states -- Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey, as well as Pennsylvania -- that have been the critical battlegrounds in most presidential elections.
Originally, Ridge thought Dole might be the kind of candidate Pennsylvania would like -- a war hero, someone who came up the hard way. So, he conceded, "I was a little disappointed myself" when Dole folded his campaign here.
The governor, once considered for the vice presidential nomination, refuses to join the carping within the party about the ticket.
"I'm not sure Bob Dole should have or could have done things better," he said, noting that the Republican nominee early on won high marks for the San Diego convention and for the choice of Jack Kemp for vice president.
But, Ridge added, Dole found it "hard to overcome" the backlash against Republicans from the shutdown of the government and from the perception of extremism in the Republican-led Congress.
The Pennsylvania governor is especially annoyed at Dole critics within the party. "Bob Dole and Jack Kemp have been working for the party for years," Ridge said, "so when I see some of these public utterances, it's troublesome."
By contrast, he said, "you've got to give the Democrats a lot of credit" for putting aside their differences. "The Democrats are not all really happy with Clinton," he said, "but they say, 'He's ours.' "
One such example is evident here among African-American voters, who make up the largest ethnic bloc in this city and whose turnout fell sharply two years ago.
In that campaign, says Rep. Chaka Fattah, the 39-year-old Democrat who represents one of two black-majority districts here, "There was lots of disillusionment [with Clinton's first years]."
Some blacks were irked by his decision to abandon Lani Guinier, a local black law professor, as his choice for assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights. Some labor leaders were upset by the administration's trade policy.
"Everybody had their gripes," Fattah said. But now, those same voters are being stirred by what they see coming on social and economic programs from conservative Republicans and especially from House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "Newt," Fattah says with a grin, "is like an energizing bunny for Democratic voters."
So Fattah is helping to plan a get-out-the-vote rally with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on Saturday. Other political and labor leaders are putting their shoulders to the wheel. "The one thing we have to worry about is complacency," said Mike Frazier, the Clinton-Gore coordinator here.
Ed Rendell clearly is not complacent. After an hour, the mayor has shaken hands with perhaps 120 of his constituents, signing their campaign fliers and urging them to "be sure to vote Nov. 5."
Clinton, Rendell enjoys recalling, in 1992 received a greater plurality in Philadelphia, relative to the number of voters, than John F. Kennedy did in 1960.
The outlook this time?
"Unfathomable," Rendell says. "It could be as low as 45 [percent of voters] or as high as 60."
Pub Date: 10/30/96