ROCK HILL, S.C. — Jon Love was busy making phone calls Saturday on behalf of Democratic Rep. John Spratt, locked in a tough fight for a 15th term.
Across town, Bonnie Freund had a phone pressed to her ear Friday, but she was trying to elect Republican Mick Mulvaney to the same seat.
Love and Freund are part of a massive get-out-the-vote effort playing out around the state as the GOP tries to pick up a fifth U.S. House seat, hold onto the governor’s mansion and win all other statewide offices. Democrats are waging a turnout game of their own, hoping to coax enough black voters to the polls to return Spratt to Washington and take back the governorship.
As the fall campaigns enter their final days, get-out-the-vote efforts can make the difference in close races such as the 5th district contest for Spratt’s seat.
Love, a 40-year-old double amputee, said health care helped seal his loyalty to Spratt. Love said he met Spratt for the first time right before Congress approved a Democratic health care overhaul.
Love said Saturday he had knocked on more than 100 doors and made more than 600 calls for Spratt. He was part of a crew of nearly 70 working at the county’s Democratic Party’s headquarters Saturday to turn out votes.
“I feel like I owe him at this point,” said Love, who has returned to college and is studying political science. “And at 40 years old, when you have to ask your family to help pay for your insurance, it’s just not right.”
The health care debate pulled Freund into the Mulvaney fight, too. The 64-year-old retired teacher from Florida moved to Sun City in neighboring Lancaster County three years ago. Worries about that law’s pricetag and health care changes are top reasons the Republican-leaning independent is working on her first campaign.
“I really don’t like to use the phone this much,” she said from a packed get-out-the-vote center run by the GOP. On Friday, she was one of 48 people working during a 12-hour day of calls.
She says she’s hearing concerns from voters regarding Spratt’s ads criticizing a Mulvaney real estate deal and showing some seniors locked up. While pushing a state’s rights measure in the state Senate, Mulvaney went along with debating a measure that would have outlawed an array of federal programs, including Social Security.
“There’s this much truth to the whole issue,” Freund says.
Some say Republicans might not need a lot of coaxing to get out and vote this year, given strong feelings about the Obama’s administration’s policies.
“I think this time everybody expects Republicans to turn out in droves,” said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon.
Spratt, who has withstood past conservative waves, knows the unprecedented effort going into his race. He doesn’t expect to win this Charlotte-area county, but the numbers he picks up here will add to what he hopes to garner in a district sprawling toward the center of the state and toward the coast. “Having served as long as I do, I don’t feel like an underdog. But I readily acknowledge this race is neck and neck right now,” Spratt said.
Democrats also are hoping turnout efforts can help Democrat Vincent Sheheen overtake Republican Nikki Haley in the governor’s race.
Jay Parmley, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, said the Democratic strategy involves capitalizing on a 2008 primary that brought out new voters and boosted black voter participation. Democrats turned out more voters in that year’s presidential primary than did Republicans in theirs – 532,151 to 445,499. About 862,000 voters supported President Barack Obama in the general election
Parmley said the Obama campaign created a network of volunteers that’s now fully engaged and has made a million contacts with voters. “People are paying attention and they’re focused,” said Parmley, who says the party is targeting both its voter base and independent voters.
Huffmon is skeptical. “They have to pull out every stop and they’ve got to take that database and reach every one of those people,” he said.
And Joel Sawyer, the state GOP’s executive director, said there’s a key difference in the midterm race and 2008 contests.
“Obama had something in that race called celebrity,” Sawyer said. “You can’t duplicate it. You can’t manufacture it. It just happens.”
Sawyer won’t say how many contacts his party is making. Patrick Sebastian, who runs the York County GOP field office, says thousands of calls a day are going out from his operation alone.
The turnout effort statewide already has shown up in records set for absentee voting, which in South Carolina includes mailed and in-person ballots cast. On Wednesday, the State Election Commission reported 81,673 voters had already cast absentee ballots, topping the most recent midterm high of 75,651 ballots in 2006.
Courtesy: “The State”