It's All About Turnout, Turnout, Turnout

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Gore attends the Sunday service at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Michigan

In the three weeks before Election Day, Republicans will have made 62 million phone calls, distributed 1.2 million yard signs and 1.5 million bumper stickers, and sent out 110 million pieces of mail (50 million going to California, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania alone). Cost: $40 million.

In the same period, the Democrats and organized labor, working in concert, will have fielded 40,000 workers and sent 50 million letters. Cost: More than $40 million. The NAACP has spent an unprecedented $9 million appealing to black voters. Planned Parenthood's election investment is $10 million for a campaign targeting Republican and independent women that includes TV ads, phone banks and 2.2 million mailings.

Getting out the vote: It's all that matters. With a week to go in a neck-and-neck campaign and the undecideds still unfathomable, everybody with any stake in the 2000 election — and the means to do something about it — is counting on turnout, turnout, turnout to put their man over the top. Here's a brief look at the most sought-after voter groups in America.

Black voters

The black vote is a Democratic vote, but turnout is tricky. African-Americans vote in smaller numbers than their percentage of the population warrants (the same is true for the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder). Two problems this year: They don't hate George W. Bush, and they loved Bill Clinton, who to some extent can thank the black vote for his presidency. And as anyone who was inspired to pull the lever for Clinton will tell you, Al Gore is no Bill Clinton. So while Gore continued Sunday to toil away at his preacher impression at black churches in Detroit, Clinton was feeling the pain of black congregations in the Washington area.

And leaving messages on their answering machines. In Georgia this week, auto-dialers will give voters in black neighborhoods sound bites in the key of Bill. Even in Missouri, with a black population of only 10 percent but turnout closer to 6 percent, a few more points could turn the race, so there's lots of attention. Same deal in Michigan. The non-partisan (hee hee) NAACP is running a rather despicable ad tying Bush to the James Byrd dragging death in Texas. The Magic Johnson Theatres company is running on-screen ads. And somewhere, a desperate Al and Tipper are probably wondering if smooching to a new campaign theme song — "You Sexy Thing" — might just put them over the top.


Here's the other group Clinton gets out to the polls in force, especially now that he's safely off the ticket. Republicans' visceral dislike of the current White House occupant — and their desire for a Republican replacement — gets stronger the farther right you go on the spectrum, which is why George W. Bush has heard nary a peep since the primaries from any of the once-fractious GOP factions. The GOP is excited about Bush, mostly because he's electable, and excited about proving it on Election Day.

But Bush still needs every last Republican to make sure it happens.


Turnout isn't the problem with these folks — it's whether they'll be idealists or pragmatists when it comes time to pull the lever. In the Northwest and Midwest battlegrounds, Democrats are begging the potentially state-tipping Nader crowd to vote with their heads and go with the candidate closest to their views; Republicans are actually running pro-Nader ads (and probably dwarfing Nader's own ad budget in the process). Will Naderites chicken out and try to elect Gore, figuring a vote for Nader will just elect Bush? Or do enough of them really believe, in the words of one placard, "A Vote for Gore Is a Vote for Bush"? One thing's for sure: It's never been a more fashionable time to be a guy who chuck eggs at WTO summits.


Election watchers have begun to wonder if these people are ever going to get off their butts. With seven days left and each candidate's stump speech pretty much set, is it possible to be still undecided and excited enough to turn out? They'll still get their tip of the rhetorical cap from Bush and Gore, but in the turnout trenches, it's the base that counts. Bush folks would just as soon all the coin-flippers stayed home and let the die-hards decide the day.