Aside from lawn signs and bumper stickers, there isn’t a lot of visible presidential campaigning in the Capital Region.
Behind closed doors, though, area Democrats are actively engaged in coordinated phone efforts that reach out to voters in swing states where they might help President Barack Obama secure victory. For the most part, this organized effort isn’t being replicated for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by local Republicans, as their focus is primarily on congressional and state Legislature races closer to home.
“There is a lot of excitement for Romney,” said Clifton Park Republican Committee member Amy Standaert, noting the lawn signs and bumper stickers she comes across in the region.
But that excitement hasn’t translated into an active outreach by the Romney campaign, because of the winner-take-all format of the Electoral College and the overwhelming Democratic enrollment advantage in the state. These factors put the state solidly in Obama’s camp and make it pointless for Romney to spend energy cutting his deficit here.
As a result, Standaert said, some individual Republicans are calling potential swing state voters, but most coordinated efforts are in behalf of local candidates.
Saratoga County Republican Committee Chairman John Herrick acknowledged the Romney campaign is focused on states that are still up for grabs. The lack of outreach from Romney’s campaign and the fact that people can actually meet local Republican candidates and see them on television allows the Republican establishment in the Capital Region to focus on its congressional, state Senate and Assembly races, he said.
“There is more excitement about the local races,” Herrick said.
That same excitement exists among Capital Region Democrats, who have also been mobilized on behalf of Obama. The leaders in this movement are MoveOn.org and the AFL-CIO, which have teamed up to rally their 19 million members on behalf of the president.
Schenectady resident Andrew DiLiddo is part of that effort and regularly has people at his house to call voters in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio. The idea is that motivated Obama supporters in New York can help inspire like-minded voters in other states to actively campaign locally in the final days before voters head to the polls.
DiLiddo has been hosting people at his home since August, when the goal was to get people to start hosting phone parties in their states, and last week’s effort targeted neighborhoods in Florida where early voting has started.
“Because of electoral politics, it is imperative to make phone calls to reach out to your supporters outside of New York,” he said.
That reality is particularly frustrated for Peggy Breitbart of Ballston Spa. “It makes me feel somewhat powerless,” she said.
Breitbart joined phone parties in 2008 on behalf of Obama, but this year she has been doing it from her home and has tried to focus on one battleground state.
“I’m from Ohio, so I wanted to call Ohio,” she explained. “It meant something more to me.”
Because of that connection, she also feels free to go off script, deviating slightly from prepared remarks organizers draw up and establishing a rapport with people based on her past.
DiLiddo said it is common for callers to have a briefing on the communities they’re calling so they can engage in a smoother conversation. This briefing might include how to pronounce street names or landmarks that a voter might need to know.
The reactions from recipients are mixed, according to Joe Seeman of Ballston Spa, who is trying to rally Obama supporters. Some people are already campaigning, some have life issues that get in the way. But some people start campaigning after his call.
“We also get a hell of a lot of voicemails,” Seeman said. “A majority of people don’t answer their phones.”
DiLiddo added that there is also an effort led by the Obama campaign to target undecided voters. He calls undecided voters and Obama supporters. The undecided tend to take a lot out of him and are generally less pleasant, he said.
“The other kind is more energizing,” he said. “But at some point you’ve got to do the other ones. I try to strike a balance, with a mix of both.”
One of the big challenges for people calling out of state on behalf of Obama is the competitive congressional and state Legislature races in the Capital Region.
“I have found it takes some discipline to just focus on the presidential election,” said DiLiddo.
Today in the Capital Region, more than 75 people already signed up through MoveOn.org will call states on behalf of Obama. Meanwhile, the state Republican Party is hosting a victory center in Glens Falls, where people can get involved in races at almost any level.