* Voter turnout operation a key for Democratic hopes
* Obama and Democrats try to boost enthusiasm with voters
* Volunteers make calls, knock on doors to find voters
By John Whitesides
TWINSBURG, Ohio, Oct 14 While his suburban
neighbors relax in the evening after work, Steve Shucard
hunches over a laptop computer at his kitchen table, dialing
Most of the calls to Ohio voters are wrong numbers,
hang-ups or go unanswered. But once in a while, Shucard hits
pay dirt -- someone who pledges to support Ohio Democrat Ted
Strickland for governor.
"You're a good man!" Shucard said on a recent evening,
recording the potential voter's response and vital information
in a Democratic campaign data bank for future reference.
Calls and door-to-door surveys by volunteers like Shucard,
conducted around Ohio and the country, are the backbone of a
get-out-the-vote effort that Democrats hope will help limit
their losses and counter a pronounced Republican advantage in
enthusiasm for the Nov. 2 U.S. midterm elections.
With anger over the sagging economy and President Barack
Obama's leadership firing up Republicans, Democrats are trying
to muster their supporters one phone call or door knock at a
"Our path to victory runs through turning out our voters,"
said Greg Schultz, Ohio director of Organizing for America, the
grass-roots successor to Obama's 2008 campaign and part of a
Democratic turnout effort that also features state parties,
liberal activist groups and labor unions.
Whether Democrats hold their majorities in Congress could
be decided by how many of the 15 million first-time voters who
surged to the polls for Obama in 2008 -- many of them young,
black or Hispanic -- are coaxed back again in an election that
does not have Obama on the ballot.
Top News-U.S. elections link.reuters.com/fyq86p
TAKE A LOOK on elections [ID:nUSVOTE]
Turnout is traditionally lower in congressional elections,
when there is no presidential race to attract attention, making
it crucial for Democrats to pump up the involvement their core
The early signs have been less than promising. Those voters
were largely no-shows in Democratic losses in governor's races
in Virginia and New Jersey last year and in a special Senate
election in January in Massachusetts -- all states Obama won in
"Here's the brutal reality. Either we close the so-called
enthusiasm gap before election day, or it's going to be a
really bad Election Day," said Democratic strategist Chris
PUMP IT UP
Obama has hit the road to pump up enthusiasm, holding
rallies on college campuses, taking questions through Facebook
and Skype and participating on Thursday in a town hall on the
youth and black-oriented MTV and BET cable networks.
A Democratic cable ad targets young voters featuring
footage from Obama's recent rally at the University of
Wisconsin. It urges them to "make history again."
The Democratic National Committee pledged to spend $30
million on a get-out-the vote drive focused on first-time
voters, and launched their first national door-to-door canvas
to identify voters in early June. Officials declined to provide
statistics on how many contacts the volunteer effort has made.
"We know we are up against a very strong political headwind
and we don't discount the enthusiasm we see on the other side,"
said Lynda Tran, a national spokeswoman for the turnout effort.
"But we're encouraged by what we see on the ground."
Polls have shown a slight uptick in Democratic engagement
in recent weeks as Obama made more campaign-style appearances
and turned up his attacks on Republican economic policies.
But a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week projected Republicans
are still likely to gain a U.S. House of Representatives
majority, putting them in position to try to overturn Obama's
healthcare and financial regulation reforms. [ID:nN13258322]
Some Democratic voters in Ohio, home to a tight governor's
race, a Senate race and a half-dozen competitive House races,
said they were not paying attention or have little interest in
Jeri Winebrenner, a mother of three in Lorain, said she was
still enthusiastic about Obama but did not have the same level
of interest in voting as in 2008.
"I'm a little disillusioned by all the back and forth," she
said. "I'm just not thinking very much about the election this
time, there are too many other things going on."
Shucard and his wife Sharon, who open their house to
neighbors twice a week to make calls on behalf of Democrats,
said they sensed a reawakening of interest among Democrats.
"I think people are finally starting to pay attention,"
Sharon Shucard said. "The interest is going to build as people
realize what is at stake."
From their kitchen table, the Shucards and neighbor Fran
Jurecki called a list of potential Democratic voters to ask if
Strickland -- embroiled in a tough re-election fight with
Republican John Kasich -- could count on their support.
"No way," snapped one voter before hanging up. Undecided
voters were offered more information.
"She said if she votes, she's going to vote for Strickland.
But I don't think she's going to vote," Jurecki said after
talking to one uncertain potential voter.
Republicans also are trying to turn out voters, although
they have the luxury of channeling the party's grass-roots
energy rather than trying to motivate a dispirited voter base.
"We're seeing that enthusiasm everywhere," said Republican
National Committee spokeswoman Katie Wright, who said party
volunteers had made more than 25 million voter contacts in this
cycle, a 25 percent increase from 2008.
"We have more volunteers on the ground than we've seen in
years. We have people streaming in off the streets to knock on
doors and call their neighbors," she said.
Democratic strategist Kofinis said a strong turnout
operation was important, but the message on how the party would
turn around the struggling economy and create jobs would be as
important in getting Democrats to go to the polls.
"The message is what excites people to get out and vote,"
he said. "There is no doubt we'll have a more effective door
knocking program than Republicans, but is that enough given the
message voters are hearing?"
(Editing by Jackie Frank)