Taking politics across state lines
Boulder City, Nev. • Clipboard in hand and the slogan "ForMITTable" emblazoned across the front of her shirt, Kathie Johnson rapped on another rattling screen door of a manufactured home in this subdivision just a few miles from Lake Mead.
The dog inside goes bananas and soon Gary Hedges pokes his head out the door. Johnson, of South Jordan, Utah, runs through her script, asking if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan can count on his support this election.
"Absolutely. Absolutely," Hedges said as Johnson smiles and marks him down on her clipboard.
Like many in Nevada where home values have plummeted and unemployment is still nearly 12 percent Hedges is voting his pocketbook, pointing to the green Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck in his driveway that he says cost $107 to fill up.
"Frankly, it doesn't need to be where it is," said Hedges. "Drill, baby, drill. That's all I've got to tell 'em."
This is the ground game, as the presidential campaign machines scrape and claw for every last vote and find some sliver of an advantage in the crucial swing states.
Road trip • In Utah, the outcome of the presidential contest has never been in doubt, but sandwiched as it is between two battleground states, supporters have begun pouring over the borders to do what they can to make a difference, slight as it may be, during the frantic final weeks.
About 250 Republicans packed into buses Friday, setting out for Las Vegas and the surrounding area knocking on an estimated 25,000 doors to boost the Romney-Ryan ticket. Another group spent the weekend campaigning in Colorado.
"I really believe in Mitt Romney's message and if there was an opportunity to bring his message to voters in another state â¦ I definitely wanted to do it," said Linda PatiÃ±o, a student at the University of Utah, campaigning in Nevada.
More than 500 miles away, about 80 Barack Obama supporters from Utah fanned out in Colorado, contacting voters in neighborhoods in Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs and Cortez.
Mostly, the volunteers were making sure the voters knew where their polling places were, had received absentee ballots if they requested them, and got them returned properly, said Annette Bowman, one of the Obama volunteers from Salt Lake City.
"Coming from a state where it's pretty much guaranteed red, it's definitely something that we can do to kind of work in our favor for the election," she said. "A lot of people think you can't do anything as one individual, but we've talked to a lot of people, and it's kind of a pyramid thing, where you talk to one person and they talk to more and it builds."
Democratic edge • David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said an effective grassroots effort can move the needle by a point or two. But in Nevada, at least, the Democrats still are well ahead in running a sophisticated ground game.
"If it's coordinated with information about voting patterns and micro-targeting and that stuff â¦ it can be very, very useful," Damore said. "Just dumping people into a neighborhood without much thought and data isn't all that useful."
Democrats have been doing it longer, he said, and have a better system in place in the Silver State, but Republicans have begun putting resources and volunteers in the field.
"If you go with just the sheer number and you hit enough doors, you're going to get some results," he said.
Johnson said Romney's nomination offers a unique opportunity for Utahns to get involved.
"With Mitt's background with the LDS Church and [Nevada] is a friendly state because we have aligned values, we get to have a lot more [involvement] than any other candidate who ran," she said. "How often will we be that close to a presidential candidate, one we identify with and feel that is just part of our community and I feel, in our lifetime, this is the most crucial election we've had."
It's slow going in Nevada this Saturday. Only about every fourth or fifth door-knock gets answered. A few voters who were targeted earlier by a massive phone bank effort including four call centers in Utah are unwilling to say who they'll vote for or say they're still undecided.
It can get frustrating, said Fran Djoukeng, a student at Brigham Young University, who said she has wanted to be politically engaged and that canvassing for Romney was a good opportunity. She said she'd knocked on about 20 doors Saturday morning and spoken to one undecided voter and others who didn't want to talk.
"Out interacting with voters, you never know what they're going to say," she said.
Football over politics • In a gated community in Las Vegas along the Stallion Mountain Golf Club, Juleen Jackson and her daughter, Mary Alice, run into some resistance from a voter who doesn't want politics interrupting his Saturday.
"I don't know about all that. Right now I'm watching the football game," said the deep, male voice from behind the screen, before shutting the door.
But generally, those who actually answer the doors that Jackson and her daughter knock on are friendly and, for the most part, pro-Romney.
Jackson said it was her daughters who wanted to volunteer and she decided to turn it into a family excursion. She said she got seriously involved in politics about three years ago when she and a group of other mothers, fearful of the direction of the country, started a book club.
They read Cleon Skousen's The 5,000 Year Leap and Jackson began teaching a regular Constitution study group that, as the campaign approached, has included volunteering on Republican campaigns.
"It's a fun thing to do, and if you want to make a difference, you've got to get involved and roll up your sleeves," said Jackson, whose family was featured on an NBC News documentary about Mormons.
They knock on the door of Antonio Padilla, who grins as he assures them he'll be supporting Romney just like he tells the people who call him three or four times a day.
"I'm especially worried what will happen if Obama is still in. I'm scared for Medicare. I'm on Medicare right now, plus the gas [price] is real bad," said Padilla. "That hurts, especially when you're on a fixed income."
Around the corner, Johnson and PatiÃ±o have hit a snag. Lee Rose, a security guard, has issued them a trespass warning for knocking on doors in the gated community. "But tell Governor Romney I'm voting for him," Rose said.
Early voting • The Republican sweep through the Las Vegas area coincides with the start of early voting in the state, but many appear content to wait until Election Day to cast their ballots.
Democrats have leaped out to an advantage in the early voting, with 46 percent of the nearly 214,609 ballots cast so far coming from Democrats, compared to 37 percent Republicans and 17 percent independents, according to figures gathered by Michael McDonald, a political science professor at George Mason University who runs the Elections Project.
Republicans tout that as an improvement over their performance in 2008, and credit the 1.3 million voter contacts volunteers have made.
In Colorado, nearly 326,000 ballots have been cast, 39 percent by Republicans, 37 percent by Democrats and 24 percent by unaffiliated voters.
"Every single vote makes a difference, especially in Colorado," said Jefferson Campbell, a University of Utah student who spent the weekend working for Obama in Grand Junction.
Campbell said he's backing Obama because the president has supported the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and he wants to see that continue.
"Every time you talk to someone who wasn't going to vote â¦ it honestly felt like I was making a difference," he said. "It felt like I was really playing an active role in the campaign and helping get people involved who otherwise wouldn't be involved."
Parties seek Utah volunteers for swing-state campaigning
Democrats will have one final training session for volunteers who want to canvass in Colorado on the weekend of Nov. 2-4. It will be held Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building at the University of Utah, 1655 East Campus Center Dr.
Republicans will continue busing volunteers to Nevada and Colorado over the final two weekends. Those interested in the Nevada trip can sign up at http://www.mittromney.com/forms/UTHelpMittWinNV and those interested in the Colorad trip can sign up at http://www.mittromney.com/forms/UTHelpMittWinCO Democrats will have one final training session for volunteers who want
to canvass in Colorado on the weekend of Nov. 2-4. The training will
be held Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Spencer Fox
Eccles Business Building at the University of Utah, 1655 E. Campus