GOP prods flock for undisputed Bush win (AJC)

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Howard Roark

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/19/04

WASHINGTON — Republicans are quietly assembling an army of volunteers to boost President Bush's showing in states like Georgia, where he already has a comfortable lead in the polls.

The energized voter outreach is driven, in part, by the hope that a surge for the president will help elect Republicans to Congress, statewide offices and state legislatures.

Laura Barnard, a stay-at-home mom in Brookhaven, says she's made 500 Bush-Cheney yard signs since she started coming to the Victory Center in Sandy Springs. Son Jonathan helps.


"We want our candidates to be able to open their spinnakers up in the home stretch and catch the Bush tailwind," said Ralph Reed, a Georgia political consultant who is Bush-Cheney campaign chairman for the Southeast.

A presidential visit and a voter turnout drive just before the 2002 election, when Reed was Georgia Republican Party chairman, is credited by some for the surge that helped elect a Republican governor and U.S. senator and gave the party big gains in the Legislature.

This year, Republicans say they want to rack up big numbers in so-called "safe" states to help Bush win the national popular vote that eluded him four years ago, when he received 543,895 fewer votes than Democrat Al Gore but eked out a slim majority in electoral votes.

"We're aiming higher" this time, said Nate Crain, party chairman in Dallas County, Texas. "We want the president to win both the popular vote as well as the Electoral College."

In Georgia, Republicans say they have recruited 41,600 volunteers to knock on doors, staff phone banks and write postcards telling friends and neighbors that "every vote counts."

On Tuesday at the Bush/Cheney Victory Center in Sandy Springs, about a dozen volunteers were stamping mailers and making phone calls in the red-white-and-blue war room. They were busy recruiting for a task force that will mobilize in the 72 hours before the election.

Laura Barnard, a stay-at-home mom in Brookhaven, said she has made 500 yard signs since she started coming to the center in July. She brings along her son Jonathan, who attends school at nearby Mount Vernon Presbyterian. .

"You just can't take Georgia for granted," Barnard said as she took a break from phone bank duties. "We have to make sure that President Bush gets re-elected."

Another volunteer, J.C. Lindsey, 80, a member of the Republican National Committee, said the fact that Georgia is considered safely in the president's corner has not deterred his efforts.

"Elections are won by the foot soldiers," he said. "I want to be sure to do my part."

S.C., Texas push too

In Dallas, Texas Republicans have raised their turnout targets for each precinct in the county, which four years ago delivered only a 52 percent majority for their governor's presidential bid.

In the days before early voting opened Monday, the Texans launched an aggressive drive, knocking on doors in Republican neighborhoods and distributing 125,000 pieces of campaign literature.

No one from Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters specifically asked for the stepped-up effort, said Crain, the local party chairman in Dallas. Local parties are financing the get-out-the-vote effort in Texas and other non-battleground states, footing the bills for yard signs, phones and staff organizers.

In South Carolina, Republicans have used computer databases to track down thousands of party members who have recently moved to the state, and claim to have added 40,000 to the voter rolls.

The effort in South Carolina, which has a hot race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Democrat Fritz Hollings, will cost Republicans there $1 million, the most they have ever spent on a turnout effort, said the state party's executive director, Luke Byars.

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said there is no doubt the Bush team is seeking a more decisive election result this year.

"Bush had nothing close to a mandate last time," he said. "Clearly that's what he wants this time."

From Georgia's Victory Center, teams are being sent out five days a week to neighborhoods, where they say they have distributed 50,000 yard signs and 30,000 bumper stickers.

"I would say we want to maximize the vote for the president within Georgia to help deliver the popular vote," said Justin Tomczak, director of the state party's grass-roots and voter mobilization drive.

Reed said his aim is for Bush to exceed the 12-point margin of victory he had four years ago in Georgia.

"I've worked just about every campaign in Georgia since 1978," Reed said. "I've never seen an organization of this size and magnitude."