Local Politics

Saturday, Nov 03 2012 06:00 PM

Turn-out-the vote efforts in high gear this weekend

BY JAMES BURGER AND ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com and aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

The voter registration drives are done, the mailers have been sent, the television and radio ads are scheduled and the robo-calls are rattling phones across the region.

Candidates for local and statewide offices are now focusing on the one remaining path they have to victory -- getting their supporters to the polls.

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That truth is clearly evident in the 32nd Assembly District.

Democrats have a commanding 20 percentage point lead among registered voters in the swing district thanks to new district boundaries and an aggressive voter registration effort.

But historically poor voter turnout in heavily Democratic Arvin, Lamont, Shafter and Delano has cost the party a win in past contests.

Bob Sanders, campaign adviser for the Democrat in the race, Rudy Salas, called the 5.8 percentage point increase in the Democrats' advantage over Republicans in the district since 2010 "a huge upswing," but said getting voters to act on their support for Salas is what matters.

"For Democrats to win this race, it always comes down to, for us, to be able to get our vote out," Sanders said. "This campaign, like other campaigns in the past, we don't pay much attention to registration differences, although it's an advantage statistically to Democratic candidates. But it comes down to having a field organization that can identify supporters and get those voters to the polls."

 

ADVANTAGE, DEMS

With new district lines having been drawn, area voter registration favors Democrats even more than it did in 2010, with 50 percent of the district now consisting of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans, as of Oct. 22.

Salas said Friday that despite the Democratic registration advantage, his campaign's work would continue at maximum effort. He and his campaign volunteers -- he expected more than 100 this weekend -- planned to keep calling voters and visiting them in person in the final few days before the election.

"The Central Valley Democrats here are not the same as, say, those in the Bay Area or Los Angeles," he said.

"Voters vote on the issues, and they vote on the candidate. And it's not always about whether it's a D or an R, but what are you going to do for people's lives here."

Republican Pedro Rios is Salas' opponent. Kern County Republican Party spokesman Matt Braman, who works on Rios' campaign, echoed Salas.

Both Rios and Salas are Latino men with similar backgrounds, and both are appealing to voters prone to deciding on the person, rather than the party.

"That race is going to come down to a voter's choice -- to campaigning on the issues," Braman said. "I think that voter turnout is going to be the deciding factor."

 

NO PARTY

Terry Phillips, who is running as a No Party Preference candidate to try to unseat Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, in the 23rd Congressional District, said voters are increasingly avoiding party labels when they refer to themselves.

"I've spoken to literally thousands of people in the last 12 months that have told me they consider themselves to be independent voters," he said.

Phillips knows conventional wisdom doesn't give him a chance of beating McCarthy, the third most-powerful Republican in the House of Representatives.

"I don't think that's anywhere near true. I'm planning on celebrating a victory on election night," he said.

To make that plan a reality, Phillips said, he and his team are going to attack the last few days of the campaign aggressively.

"I am running to the bitter end. We're continuing to wear out shoe leather and burn up the phone lines," he said. "There are hundreds of people who are working every day to help me get elected."

That's the story nearly every campaign is telling.

Braman said the Republican team's focus in the 32nd is on getting Rios supporters to vote by mail and to the polling place on Tuesday.

"Young Republicans are doing taxi service for those people who are unable to walk or drive to the polls," he said.

Candidates and volunteers are walking door-to-door and calling vote-by-mail voters to make sure they've cast their ballots.

But there is no question that the two major political parties have had to work hard to lay the groundwork for the explosion of effort they will exhibit over the next two days.

 

REGISTRATION

The 32nd Assembly District race is one of just four the California Democratic Party targeted this year with spending and media, and the state and Kern County Democratic parties, plus local campaigns, worked in conjunction to register voters.

Candi Easter, chair of the Kern County Democratic Party, said her organization has registered 12,000 voters in the 32nd Assembly District. All are either new Democrats or people who had registered as Republicans but changed their affiliation when the party reached out to them, she said.

But despite those results, it's traditionally been more difficult to get Democrats to the polls, Easter said, so volunteers have consistently encouraged people to vote by absentee ballot, making it 80 percent more likely they will vote.

More than 100 volunteers are lined up for the big day, Easter said. They'll be watching the polls and knocking on doors to make sure people vote.

The 32nd District roughly resembles the former 30th Assembly District, held by Republican David Valadao, who's running for Congress. The area has been represented by a Republican since 2008.

The total number of Democratic voters in the 32nd has increased by 15,589 since October 2010, but some of that change is attributable to the change in district boundaries. Republican registration only increased by 4,424.

Easter plans to capitalize on the registration gap.

"We want to take back that seat. We're going to take back that seat," Easter said in October. "We had a team of people working from January through July registering voters."

 

REPUBLICAN EFFORTS

In the 21st Congressional District, Democratic voters increased by about 2,500 in Kern County only, but registered Republican voters dropped by 217 between May and October. The district is now 47 percent Democrat and almost 33 percent Republican.

Tal Eslick, Valadao's chief of staff and a campaign volunteer, said while the campaign supporters registered new voters when the opportunity arose, voter registration hasn't been a focus. Though Valadao is a Republican, Eslick said the higher Democratic registration numbers haven't affected the campaign efforts because Valadao has support from both the major parties.

"We're proud of the fact that David has support from lots of Democrats as well as Republicans," he said. "We expect to do very well on Election Day, but we're taking nothing for granted."

That means efforts will continue until the polls close on election night, Eslick said. The campaign doesn't have plans to transport people to the polls en masse, but campaign workers will be contacting voters on Election Day to make sure they vote, he said.

Eslick said the campaign had contacted more than 200,000 people in the district and planned to call and visit tens of thousands this weekend. There are about 203,000 total registered voters in the district, which covers parts of Kern, Fresno and Tulare counties and all of Kings County.

"We've been making literally hundreds of thousands of phone calls ... and visiting hundreds of homes," he said. "And that effort is going to continue to ramp up until 8 p.m. on election night."

Eslick said Valadao's campaign relied more on county-level efforts to register voters. Bryan Williams, chair of the Kern County Young Republicans, said his organization registered several hundred Republican voters at the Kern County Fair in September and that the Kern County Republican Party registered more than 1,000 Republicans by going door-to-door.

In Kern County, Republican registration grew by 2,129 since May, but that growth has been largely in the 23rd Congressional District, where McCarthy will likely win a fourth term.

"We were turning in (voter registration) cards right up to the deadline on Oct. 22," Williams said.

He said the Young Republicans have focused their efforts on Kern County supervisor candidate Mick Gleason and Rios, such as by talking to Bakersfield, Shafter and Delano residents.

 

FINAL PUSH

In the final days, Williams said, "We're going to just walk the soles of our shoes off." They've walked every precinct in Bakersfield and Shafter already, he said, and planned to revisit them this weekend, especially to talk to people who had said they were undecided, "(to) see if we can't persuade them to vote for Mick or Pedro."

Democrat John Hernandez is Valadao's opponent. His campaign manager, Cristobal Slobodzian, said the campaign's focus now is on making sure supporters cast their votes, rather than on convincing those who were on the fence to vote for Hernandez.

"Get out the vote (efforts) is in full swing for us," Slobodzian said. On Election Day, the Hernandez campaign is planning a two-pronged attack: volunteers will knock on voters' doors in Bakersfield and Delano while other volunteers in Fresno will call voters in Kern County.

"We've identified thousands of supporters, mostly in east Bakersfield, Wasco" and other populated areas of Kern County, he said.

"So many voters are 100 percent sure they're going to vote for (Hernandez)," he said. But, he added, "When a voter pledges that they'll vote, chances are if you don't check back with them, they're not going to go out and vote.

"We're not going to take a chance that any of the individuals that we've identified are not going to get out and vote. So we have a lot of calls to make, a lot of doors to knock (on). ... This is the way you turn your support into votes."

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