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Republican Convention Delegates Plan for Next Step in 2004 Campaign - 2004-08-31


This is a time of celebration for the delegates to the Republican national convention in New York. But when they get home, they will get down to work. Like their Democratic party counterparts, they will be part of an all-out effort to win the hearts and minds of American voters. It is an essential and traditional part of the American political process.

They are partying this week in New York, cheering, waving signs and dancing in the aisles of Madison Square garden.

But when they leave town, and get back home, these party activists will lead local campaign efforts in communities around the country. It's a brand of personal politics called working the grassroots.

Justin Kryk is head of the local Bush-Cheney campaign organization in Duluth, Minnesota.

"When the convention is over, we go back home, take off the suits, take off the credentials here and go back to the drawing board. We knock on the doors, we stuff the envelopes. We do exactly everything that the grassroots organization is all about in Minnesota," he said.

There is an old saying in American politics: all politics is local. A candidate for president can spend millions on campaign advertising. But political activists from both parties say the best way to reach voters is still the old-fashioned way, neighbor reaching out to neighbor.

"Elections are not won from Washington, DC or even New York. They are won precinct by precinct, county by county," said Beth Hartwell is a Republican delegate from Tennessee. "We need to energize not just our base but that independent voter out there to realize what a great president, strong president Bush is."

Be they for Mr. Bush or Senator Kerry, volunteers will be out in force this election year.

In sparsely populated South Dakota, they will be going house to house. State Republican Chairman Randy Frederick predicts it will be a campaign with a personal touch.

"In South Dakota we have a cookie campaign going," he explains. "Our local volunteers are baking hundreds of dozens of cookies, thousands of dozens of cookies and when we go to the door of an undecided voter, we give them a half dozen cookies, thank them for their time, and ask their opinions. That is the way we do it in South Dakota."

Volunteers will also be reaching out to voters in big cities and industrial areas. Republican Senator Mike DeWine is watching the campaign unfold in his home state of Ohio where polls show neither party holds a distinct advantage.

"It is going to be about turnout. All that means is who shows up to vote," he said. "Who gets up on November second and decides to vote that day, who is energized. That is all that going to decide this election. If the election is down to one percent or two percent, this is certainly about who shores up the vote."

Political experts agree that in a close race, turnout is crucial. Steven Hess of the Brookings Institution says in the end that may be more important than winning over the small pool of undecided voters.

"So the point is not finding those few votes that are not now committed, but rather doing everything in your power to make sure every vote you have in the right places come out," he noted.

And so despite the preponderance of campaign ads, this election may be won or lost in the trenches, with a lot of volunteer energy, millions of phone calls and as the South Dakota state Republican chair put it, a certain personal touch.

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