It’s a Wednesday morning at the Republican National Committee’s Philadelphia Victory Center (an unlikely enclave of the right, tucked as it is among the thrift stores, sex shops and tattoo parlors around Fourth and South streets), and, at first, the trio of volunteers clustered at a phone bank aren’t feeling so talkative. “We have a definite point of view that your paper doesn’t subscribe to,” says one woman with a discouraging shake of her head, before pursing her lips and returning to her phone scripts. Seated next to her, a 65-year-old Center City resident decides she’ll talk — but no names. “All my neighbors are Democrats,” she explains. “Of course, they know how I feel because I have this big Romney/Ryan sign.” But still. A 67-year-old woman who splits her time between Center City and Florida nods in agreement. “I’ve had my car keyed and my tires slit during elections. I’ve been called every name in the book.”
But sticks and stones aside, they’re here three mornings a week for a reason: to plod through hundreds of get-out-the-vote calls, targeting voters of all allegiances from all over the state. “This phone doesn’t tell us if we’re talking to a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, but after doing this a month or so, we can tell,” one woman says. “Democratic women in particular are really pretty nasty people.” And 215 calls? They’re the worst. “In Philadelphia, less people will talk to you. You look at the way Democrats have run Philly for 30 years and they’re still Democrats? It’s amazing.”
Yet these women are a vital part of what Billy Pitman, Pennsylvania RNC Victory communications director, calls “an impressive ground game” that has made more than 5 million voter contacts in Pennsylvania out of 24 offices statewide. With “no daylight between the RNC, the Romney campaign and the state party,” it’s been a highly coordinated, tightly held effort to line up votes for the presidency, as well as for attorney general candidate David Freed, Senate hopeful Tom Smith and state legislative offices. “We’ve knocked on more doors than in 2004 and 2008 combined, over 1 million now,” Pitman says. The Philly office is one of the strongest in the state.
After going up against Obama’s unprecedented ’08 on-the-ground organization, Republicans have learned their lesson well, says Franklin & Marshall pollster G. Terry Madonna: “The Republicans are really working hard with mailings and voter contacts to try to make up for the failures we saw in their ground game four years ago.” And it’s been almost all ground game lately, though a last-minute $2.1 million ad buy in the state by a pro-Romney super PAC seems to indicate fresh interest in the tightening contest. Still, with a lack of “retail politics” by candidates in the state this cycle, says Madonna, “this election has come down to intensive voter identification and get-out-the-vote among core voters. We’re in a real turnout battle.” Madonna expects that, despite flagging enthusiasm for Obama — which “means less turnout among a whole number of cohorts, race included” — the president will win 93 percent to 95 percent of Philly votes.
But the Romney volunteers are seeing their own trends. “When we started, most people were going to vote for Obama. A couple weeks ago, it switched and it was even,” one woman says between calls. “Now, it’s two-to-one for Romney.” She doesn’t try to sell voters on Romney; she’s just taking “a survey.” But when it comes to opinions, she has plenty. In Romney, she says, “you get proven leadership.” She was in human resources for 40 years, so she knows how to spot “competencies.” Her friend questions Obama’s association with pastor Jeremiah Wright, and would (along with birther Donald Trump) like to see Obama’s college transcripts. Both think white guilt had a lot to do with Obama’s win in ’08. And, they see Obama as a fan of partial-birth abortion. One adds she doesn’t think Roe v. Wade will be reversed, but if it were, well, no big deal. “Forty-five years ago, when my sister was in college, the first fundraiser she held was to send her roommate to New York to get an abortion,” she says. “It goes back to the states.”
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