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Get-out-the-vote effort in high gear as campaigns wind down
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AFL-CIO volunteer Cheryl Furrer encourages union retiree Allen Kline to vote for John Kerry. (MPR Photo/Lorna Benson)
The focus of the presidential campaigns in Minnesota has turned almost entirely away from convincing undecideds. Instead, they're making sure every possible supporter casts a ballot on Election Day.

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota Democrats say their get-out-the-vote effort is the largest in state party history. DFLers estimate that at least 10,000 volunteers are on the job every hour trying to get Democrats to the polls on Tuesday.

DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson says DFLers have been campaigning at this frenzied pace for the past week. "Really the final few days comes to the ground war. You know, who can make the most phone calls and knock on the most doors, try to make a face-to-face contact with the voter," says Erlandson. "And I think that will be the margin of difference in this election."

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Image Elizabeth Edwards

Democrats set a goal of calling 750,000 voters and knocking on 250,000 doors in the final stretch of the campaign. It's hard work, especially this late in the game when many voters are fatigued by the message.

On Saturday, DFLers got a pep talk from Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic vice presidential candidate, John Edwards. She spoke at a union hall in St. Paul. "I want you to know that on my schedule it says that I'm coming to this rally in Minnesota and what I'm supposed to do is excite the crowd," says Edwards. "I can go home right? You all are pretty excited."

The DFL Party isn't alone in its efforts. It's getting getting a lot of help from other get-out-the-vote drives that also support Democrats. The AFL-CIO, a national federation of unions, endorsed John Kerry for president last February. Over the weekend, volunteer Cheryl Furrer with the Minnesota chapter took that message to members, like Allen Kline, a retiree who lives in New Brighton.

"I'm Cheryl Furrer. I'm a union member and I'm just visiting union people in the neighborhood," says Furrer. "We're working for Kerry for President. Are you planning to vote?"

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Image The Hmong vote.

"Yeah," replies Kline. I've had about five visitors for him already."

Minnesota AFL-CIO officer, Steve Hunter, says about 70 percent of the state's 400,000 members already support Kerry. That's about 280,000 voters. Hunter says door-knockers have been trying to persuade the remaining union members to vote for Kerry, but say they've had to correct some misinformation. "You know we've been talking to our sportsmen and sportswomen assuring them that John Kerry goes hunting himself. He will not take your gun away," says Hunter. "That's one issue that's kinda holding them up."

Another national group, "America Coming Together" is also working in Minnesota to get so-called "progressive" candidates elected. The state chapter, called Minnesota ACT, has been trying to recruit new Democrats since March. The group has spent a lot of time registering immigrants to vote.

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Image Phone bank

Volunteer Julia Dashe spent the weekend fielding calls from some of those newly-registered voters who want help finding their polling place. As she sits at her desk, it doesn't take long for her phone to ring again.

Efforts like this appear to have contributed to a jump in registered voters in Minnesota. The Secretary of State says there are 4.4 percent more pre-registered Minnesotans for this year's election than four years ago.

But even with an unprecedented get-out-the-vote push, Democrats still don't know if they've registered more voters than Republicans. And of course, they can't rule out the possible effect of Independent Ralph Nader. His Corporate Crime Buster's Van Tour has been criss-crossing Minnesota for weeks blaring his campaign's message over a loudspeaker. "Ralph Nader has stood by the public for 40 years," says a Nader volunteer. "Now we ask the public to stand by him. Vote for what you believe in. You know what it is, and it isn't the party line. Vote independent. Vote Nader."

It's not a welcome sight for many Democrats who blamed Nader for taking votes from Al Gore four years ago and helping George W. Bush win the presidency. Nader is on just 34 state ballots this year, but eight of them are battle ground states, including Minnesota.

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Image Ralph Nader Van Tour

The Bush campaign and Republican National Committee focused their final Minnesota push on the three days leading up to Election Day. But the RNC's Eric Bearse says these final hours were a year in the making.

"We built a strong organization over the first six months of the year, we tested that organization with projects over the summer, and in the fall we've worked on mobilizing that volunteer organization," he says.

Bearse says the drive should reach more than a million Minnesotans by phone or in-person. That's after Republicans spent the year honing their computer database of registered voters to cull out likely Kerry supporters.

In general, the Bush campaign gets less get-out-the-vote help from outside groups than does the Kerry campaign. But there is a push from groups like Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which e-mailed a video out to members on Friday.

The Bush campaign is encouraging supporters to make get-out-the-vote a personal project. Trisha Haapoja, chair of the Minnesota Young Republicans, says her main message to members has been to work on those around them.

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Image Jake Grassel

"It's to bring up politics in the workplace and with your neighbor... basically educating people on the issues so that they can speak to their friends, families, neighbors, coworkers," she says.

There is still plenty of room for good, old-fashioned door-knocking. And last weekend, Republicans were hoofing it to some communities they haven't spent much time with in the past.

Xiong Moua carried Bush literature written in Hmong to homes in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood. He helped court more than 20,000 Hmong who could turn out to vote in Minnesota.

In an office a few miles away, a dozen Hmong elders in suits worked their cell phones. They say Bush's messages of self-reliance and a strong military resonate with the Hmong experience. It helps that General Vang Pao, the symbolic leader of Hmong in the U.S., has thrown his support to the president.

Republican volunteer Warren Anderson says it's no trick targeting the calls.

"Because the Hmong has 18 clans, about 24 last names, we just go through the voter registration files and pull those 24 last names. Vang, Xiong, Moua, that's pretty much certain you've got a Hmong," according to Anderson.

Anderson thinks getting Bush 50 percent of the Hmong vote in Minnesota is possible, even likely. In this election, those 10,000 or so votes could matter a great deal.

In Minnetonka, the College Republicans use the party database to call likely Bush voters for an extra push. It's one of many call centers they've been using since Saturday. Chairman and Bethel University senior Jake Grassel says his members will donate 10,000 hours of calling and door-knocking over these four days.

"We need to try to get every amount, every last drop of energy out of every volunteer, out of everybody who wants to help out," he says.

Grassel has told his college volunteers to save their studying for Wednesday. Their critical assignment now is to put Republicans in the voting booth, and keep Bush in the White House.

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