Election 2004

Californians Head East to Make a Difference

Activists are driving across state lines to counties in Arizona and Nevada to help swing a Democratic victory in November.
Not content that California's 55 electoral votes are a sure bet for John Kerry, liberal activists from Los Angeles and San Francisco are heading East to help add to his tally. They are traveling across state lines to participate in voter mobilization drives in Nevada and Arizona, where the vote count in a handful of counties could tip the balance of the presidential election.

California Republicans are not to be left behind, however. Volunteers in Republican-heavy areas like Orange county are calling and writing letters to residents in Phoenix and Tucson to get the GOP vote out.

East to Nevada

In the case of Nevada, counties that contain Reno (Washoe) and Las Vegas (Clark) are most likely to determine the winner of its five electoral votes. These two counties accounted for two-thirds of the vote in Nevada in the 2000 election, when Bush beat Gore in Washoe 63,624 to 52,080 while Gore won in Clark county 196,100 to 170,932. In the end, Bush took the state by a three percent margin (301,539 to 279,949).

It's no surprise that both candidates have appeared in Nevada repeatedly this year in recognition of the stakes. At this time, the voting pattern in Nevada looks a lot like 2000. A June 21 Zogby poll has George Bush ahead by the same three points: 47 to 44.

Americans Coming Together (ACT), the progressive leaning and voter mobilization-focused 527 organization, is leading the effort to bring Californians to Washoe and Clark. ACT's strategy recognizes that voter mobilization efforts make a bigger difference in smaller states than larger ones. The three percent swing needed for a Gore victory in Nevada was equivalent to a mere twenty thousand votes. In contrast, according to California's 2000 voting numbers, a three-percent swing entailed 390,000 votes.

Nevada ACT State Director Terence Tolbert has found field coordinators in Los Angeles and San Francisco to find local activists willing to make the trip across state lines to Nevada. "If you have the time, talent, or treasure, go to a state where it's a battleground. There's a lot of work to be done here in Nevada. We can find folks a place to stay if they need, and the motels are dirt cheap," Tolvert says.

ACT's coordinator in San Francisco, Alane Bowling, who is busy organizing car pools of Bay residents, is delighted with the number of people signing up to make the 220-mile trip to Reno on weekends "The response from Bay activists has been tremendous," she says.

According to ACT Los Angeles coordinator Donna Kapache, progressives in Southern California are just as enthusiastic. She expects over 20 people to drive to Las Vegas with her over the weekend of July 10 and 40 more to accompany her on ACT's National Action Election Day in mid-August. In all, she has signed up 90 people to help with voter registration drives. Capiche expects the number of volunteers to grow dramatically as the weather cools down in the fall and the election gets closer. "The heat is making it a hard sell for elderly folks right now," she says.

East to Arizona

Progressives are also vying for Arizona's 10 electoral votes, focusing most of their attention on Pima county, which includes Tucson. Paul Eckerstrom, the Democratic Party chair for Pima, is delighted that Californians are lending their hand with voter registration efforts. "The way to carry this state is to turn out the rank and file in Tucson, no doubt about it. That's how Democrats win statewide out here," he says.

In the 2002 gubernatorial race in Arizona, the winning Democratic voting margin in Tucson (105,019 to 77,935) neutralized Republican gains in the much larger city of Phoenix (279,555 to 264,456), allowing Democrat Janet Napolitano to squeak through with a one percent victory.

But Californians are not the only out-of-state volunteers working with ACT in Arizona. Eckerstrom says that activists from Texas – where George Bush is sure to win come November – are also making the trip "because they believe they can make a difference."

The most recent Arizona Republic poll had Bush leading Kerry, 44 percent to 41 percent, a race made all the tighter given the three point margin of error. "Progressives groups in L.A. figured that out and have adopted Pima county for the race," Eckerstrom says.

One L.A. group, Swing State Sisters, is traveling to Pima county in early July to register potential female voters. Marcy Winograd, the Sisters' principle organizer, says that her group became interested in the Arizona country when they read about low voter turnout among single women. "We thought it would be a great demographic to target," she says. Winograd and her group are also calling up Arizona's universities to push their administrative staff to educate students about their voting rights. "A lot of out-of-state students don't know about absentee ballots, and the deans' offices don't know either," she says.

Be it the Sisters or ACT, every grassroots organization knows that every phone call, letter, or warm body on the ground can make a difference – because come November in places like Tucson and Reno, every vote will indeed count.
Jan Frel covers the Election 2004 for AlterNet.
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