Its about turnout, turnout, turnout

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Door-knockers urge big drive to get out the vote

PITTSBURGH — It’s about “turnout, turnout, turnout,” says gravelly voiced Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea, speaking from a cell phone on his way to another worksite to hand out election leaflets and talk with workers at shift change. It is not election rhetoric.

Hundreds of union members have been hitting the streets each week in seven southwest Pennsylvania counties, knocking on doors, talking worker-to-worker about Social Security, health care and jobs. Their mission is to get union members and their families to the polls on Nov. 7. Coupled with the phone banks that dot this city and region, including at the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, it is a historic midterm election campaign to oust the most right-wing Congress since just before the Civil War.

The unions’ mobilization in southwest Pennsylvania is not unique. Similar efforts are taking place elsewhere, and the results are reflected in nationwide polling. A memo released by Democracy Corps, founded by Democratic Party strategists James Carville, Robert Shrum and pollster Stanley Greenberg, called the Republican re-election situation a “meltdown.”

Despite the bad news coming out of Iraq and reports of Republicans embroiled in financial and sex scandals in Washington, Democratic candidates stuck at 49 percent for months. Then, beginning in the last week of September, that number leaped to 53 percent.

“The shift is evident on every indicator — party, Bush, war, intensity and morale,” the memo said.

“We highlight these findings because Democrats and progressives need to think radically differently about the 2006 battle,” the memo continued. “In 1994 [the year the Republicans took over the House], the race shifted dramatically at the end, but Democrats have a chance to consolidate gains large enough to affect congressional control over this decade. That means allocating resources and finding new resources to lock in the gains, as the Republicans move their much larger resources up to the new barricades.”

In fact, Democracy Corps polled 1,200 voters in 49 supposedly solid Republican House districts and found Democrats ahead by 4 percentage points overall. The districts were divided into three tiers, based on voting patterns, with the top tier the most likely to swing. The results were startling. Even in the bottom tier, Republican voters were sliding into the Democratic column by 2 points.

Indiana is a case in point. Steelworkers’ union leader Paul Kaczocha is wearing out shoes from knocking on doors and has a crick in his fingers from phone banking. He reports that of the state’s nine House districts, the two Democratic seats are safe, but three Republican seats are in play. The Republican National Congressional Campaign (RNCC) has pulled its money out of two of those and shifted resources to the district in the South Bend area. The Democrats are pumping money into the state. With a lot of work still to be done, Kaczocha sees a chance, since 1995, for the Democrats to take a majority of the Indiana delegation.

Ohio’s incumbent GOP Sen. Michael DeWine might be rich, but the RNCC has pulled its funding out of his re-election campaign, since it is in so much trouble. DeWine is not alone.

Steelworkers’ leader Bruce Bostick, another foot soldier, is feeling “upbeat” in a tough state. “There is shifting going on. Even the “values voters” (abortion, etc.) seem confused, frustrated, angry. Many, especially in the Columbus area, have switched.”

House races in the Cincinnati area are now in play, Bostick said. And in the Appalachian part of the state, disgraced Republican Bob Ney’s district, the contest is neck and neck. “If we get more and more union members out to campaign, we can turn this thing around,” he said.

Autoworkers around the country will have Election Day off with pay, in accordance with their contract. In Missouri, leaders of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists say UAW members will be a big help on Nov. 7. With a minimum wage referendum on the ballot and a recent court ruling that repealed the requirement that voters show a photo ID, they are cautiously optimistic that Claire McCaskill, the Democratic senatorial candidate, will dump Republican incumbent Jim Talent.

Even the Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District is in the mix, although rated in the bottom tier of possibilities by Democracy Corps. It is a formerly “safe” Republican area that is leaning by 2 percentage points toward the Democratic candidate.

Despite the shifts and 49 House seats now up for grabs, few are taking the election results as a given.

Joelle Fishman, chair of the Communist Party USA’s Political Action Commission, warns, “The right-wing Republican 72-hour program goes into effect three days before election. They’ll use smear attacks and big money to pull out the conservative base and suppress the general vote.

“This juggernaut can be stopped,” Fishman said. “Voters are fed up and angry. Everything is about turning out the vote that will change the leadership of Congress.”