By Jack Chang
jchang@sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

Top state Democrats acknowledged Wednesday that they’ll face an uphill climb to turn out voters next month given the sour national mood and a massive Republican get-out-the-vote operation financed by billionaire GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski said the GOP’s turnout advantage could give Republican candidates an extra percentage point or two of voter support on Election Day.

Steve Glazer, campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, cited polls projecting only a six-point Democratic turnout advantage over Republicans on Election Day. That’s less than half the Democratic margin over Republicans among all registered voters.

“There’s no way we can match Meg Whitman’s fortune that she’s contributing to get-out-the-vote efforts,” said Rose Kapolczynski, campaign manager for Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

“It’s our job to change that turnout model, and in a tight race like ours, even 1 percent higher turnout could make the difference between winning and losing.”

Whitman has broken new ground and spending records by employing state-of-the-art microtargeting to reach likely supporters and by organizing an army of volunteers.

The effort will also aid other GOP candidates, such as Boxer’s Republican rival, Carly Fiorina, as Whitman merges her operation with the state party’s so-called victory campaign.

State Republicans have opened 92 field offices statewide, in addition to Whitman’s six. They’ve also mobilized 37,000 volunteers expected to reach some 2 million voters by Election Day, said party spokesman Brian Seitchik.

“There’s just a real excitement out there that we can really feel,” Seitchik said when asked about Whitman’s contribution. “Without that, there wouldn’t necessarily be a way to channel that energy.”

The state Democratic Party has opened 84 field offices and marshaled thousands of volunteers, said spokesman Tenoch Flores. Brown and Boxer also have their own turnout operations that work closely with the party.

“I think that Whitman’s unprecedented spending had a reverse effect, especially with Democratic voters,” Flores said. “They’re eager to get out the vote, and they’re eager to turn their friends out to vote.”

A poll released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showed Whitman may have to lean heavily on voter turnout to beat Brown.

According to the poll, the Democrat leads Whitman by eight percentage points among likely voters, a swing from a September survey giving Whitman a one-point lead. The poll showed 16 percent of respondents are still undecided.

Boxer’s margin over Republican rival Carly Fiorina narrowed from seven percentage points in September to five points in the latest poll, with 13 percent undecided.

Whitman strategist Todd Cranney said he was optimistic that his campaign’s turnout efforts would help make the difference. The campaign would not disclose how much it was spending on voter turnout. Whitman has broken records by investing $141.6 million of her own money in her campaign.

“We’ve always expected the race to be extremely close, and that’s why we invested in a good (get-out-the-vote) effort,” Cranney said. “That’s why we feel good about our ground-game effort and why it’ll make the difference on Election Day.”

Turnout alone, however, likely won’t help Whitman catch Brown, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“If the PPIC poll is an accurate snapshot of the race, (Whitman) also has to win some hearts and minds,” Pitney said. “It’s possible, but it’s also a challenge” to depend on turnout for victory.

Democratic fears about Whitman’s voter outreach surfaced Tuesday, when former Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown worried publicly that Brown and Boxer don’t have a strong enough ground game.

Whitman has blazed voter outreach trails this year by tailoring mailers and other communication to the specific traits of potential supporters. She’s also using text messages and social media to remind people to vote.

“Everything is fully integrated and coordinated so we can get the right message at the right time through the right format,” Cranney said.

Pulaski said his group is also using such microtargeting to reach 2 million union members and another million supporters for Democratic candidates.

The labor federation is even sending out fliers in Korean as part of its outreach to 120,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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