Mayoral candidates push to get supporters to polls

Mayoral candidates push to get supporters to polls
Candidates running for the Democratic nomination to be mayor of Baltimore include, from left, Frank M. Conaway Sr., Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, Catherine E. Pugh, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Otis Rolley.

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley bounded down the steps of a West Baltimore home and flashed what looked like two victory signs.

"Two twos!" he said.

A campaign assistant scrolled through a list of voters on an iPad and recorded the twos — shorthand for pretty strong support — which the Rolley campaign hopes will lead to support in Tuesday's primary.

In the crowded field of Democratic candidates for mayor, getting voters to the polls remains the last hurdle on the road to victory. The six-day early voting period attracted a small number of residents, highlighting the challenge that candidates face in a city with historically low turnout.

Couple that with the primary's timing — it doesn't coincide with a presidential or gubernatorial election — as well as a campaign that never quite caught fire in the public consciousness, and Tuesday's turnout is likely to be low, said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Low turnout, he said, will be good for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who has been leading in polls, because she has a commanding financial advantage and a well-organized campaign.

Early voting attracted only 7,816 people, less than 2.5 percent of registered voters. That's a slight increase over last year, when 7,235 early ballots were cast in the gubernatorial primary. Last year, a total of 72,741 primary votes were cast in Baltimore.

"The perception is the mayor has done a good job and therefore there is very little reason to vote her out of office," Norris said. "The guessing is [that] her people are going to turn out, and the opposition will not be able to turn their voters out."

But Rawlings-Blake's challengers say they remain confident. While polls represent a fleeting snapshot of a candidate's chances, voter turnout is what cements a win. And the four other Democrats vying for mayor all have strategies to identify supporters and get them to the voting booth.

Last week, campaign workers for state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh signed up students as Election Day volunteers, part of a broader plan to send busloads of supporters to the polls.

The efforts began in June, shortly after Pugh declared her candidacy. Volunteers worked a phone bank in almost round-the-clock shifts to identify supporters, while a canvassing team went door-to-door around the city.

Anthony McCarthy, spokesman for Pugh's campaign, said staffers located "ID voters" who can count on rides to the polls. He was hesitant to provide more details, saying he didn't want to tip off competitors to Pugh's strategies.

"A lot of people are doing very targeted stuff," McCarthy said. "We reached out to everybody. Trust me, we are well-prepared to get our voters to the polls. All they have to do is call and they will be taken to their polling place."

This will be Pugh's second city-wide election. In 2003, she challenged Sheila Dixon in the primary for city council president and won 26,409 votes, about 30 percent of the total.

The Pugh campaign plans to pause a bit on Sunday — the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks — and won't deliver robo-calls that day. Still, she will be out campaigning.

Keiana Page, a spokeswoman for the Rawlings-Blake campaign, said the mayor will make appearances around Baltimore as the primary nears. But she declined to offer details about the campaign's strategy to ensure supporters vote on Tuesday, calling it "confidential information."

Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, a former executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said his campaign is also offering rides to polling places and sending out robo-calls imploring voters to "not vote for the status quo."

"My tactic is to try to identify every voter who is dissatisfied with the current state of the city," said Landers.

Rolley, a former city planning director, said his campaign is targeting "super voters" — those who have voted in both the 2007 city Democratic primary and the 2010 gubernatorial primary — and has knocked on 45,000 of their doors.

"We're trying to be smart and target those people most likely to vote," said Rolley. "These people are engaged."

Rolley uses a five-point system to classify voter support, with "ones" indicating the most fervent supporters and "fives" those strongly opposed to him. On Election Day, campaign workers will phone those most likely to support Rolley, urge them to vote, and offer them rides to the polls.

"We have to make sure that they vote, and, most importantly, that they vote for me," Rolley said.

City Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, Sr., said he has a strong sense of where his supporters live, as he's making his fourth run for mayor. He plans to visit high-rise residences for seniors on Tuesday, offering voters rides to the polls.

"That's my base: senior citizens," he said.