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Forecast for the weekend: last-minute campaign blitz around the state

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 29, 2010 - For all the focus on new media, and online social network sites like Twitter and Facebook, the last days of any campaign center on the success or failure of an old-school activity: Getting voters to go vote.

That can be a challenging task for a mid-term election like the one on Tuesday, even with all the hype about the predicted Republican wave fueled by public discontent.

Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are slated to headline a Democratic rally at 4 p.m. Sunday at the World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park. That event will cap a series of Democratic get-out-the-vote events around the state. Rallies in Springfield, Mo. and Kansas City are set for Saturday.

Republicans are planning a series of events Monday around the state; the details are still being worked out, organizers said.

Both major parties and their allies -- notably, labor organizations and Tea Party groups -- also are in the midst of massive phone-bank operations and canvassing drives that will continue through the weekend. So will the automated phone calls.

Mailboxes also are overflowing with fliers making last-minute pitches -- many of them negative -- as the parties and their candidates make their final appeals.

Republicans say their get-out-the-vote efforts this year are at least as aggressive as two years ago.

"We are doing as many, if not more phone calls," said state Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith.

The GOP believe that its supporters already are whipped up by their dissatisfaction with the Democrats controlling Washington. If the polls are accurate, they've been joined by many independents who had sided with Democrats in 2008.

St. Louis Democratic Party chairman Brian Wahby contended that Democrats, who polls say have been disspirited and disinterested, are starting to come around. "What I'm seeing, in the last couple days, is that people are focusing on this again," Wahby say. "I think people get what's going on in this election."

Similar themes are coming from the candidates, especially the top-of-the-ticket nominees for the U.S. Senate. Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Robin Carnahan both are continuing their statewide bus tours aimed at highlighting their differences, and energizing their allies.

Blunt began Friday with a stop at McArthur's Bakery in south St. Louis County, then held events in St. Charles, Troy, Washington and Rolla, Mo. He's spending Saturday headlining at least seven events in southwest Missouri, his home turf.

Carnahan also is outstate, with stops Friday in Jefferson City, Lebanon and Rolla. On Saturday, she's headlining the two get-out-the-vote ralllies slated for Saturday morning in Springfield and in the afternoon in Kansas City. She also will be featured at Sunday's rally in Forest Park.

Democrats are relying, in part, on the grassroots muscle of the state AFL-CIO, which has been operating a number of phone banks around the state -- including at least a half-dozen in the St. Louis area -- where volunteers call union households. Labor groups also have been conducting door-to-door canvasses for months, along with mailed fliers and campaign literature distributed on work sites.

Bill Otto, who's overseeing the labor get-out-the-vote operation for eastern Missouri, said he's confident the labor efforts will help stave off some of the GOP momentum seen in other states.

The St. Louis Tea Party has been operating a phone-bank operation as well.  The two of the group's leaders -- Gina Loudon and Dana Loesch -- are radio talk-show hosts who also are encouraging listeners to vote.

All of the activities by both parties, the candidates and their allies are directed at frequent voters deemed most likely to show up for Tuesday's mid-term election, where voter turnout -- projected at 51 percent -- is predicted to be slightly lower than the 2006 midterm.

Parties worry about voter fraud, intimidation

Republicans and Democrats already are sparring over the voters themselves.

Blunt's campaign has for weeks been organizing poll-watchers to place in certain polling places so Republicans can verify that proper procedures are being followed, so that people who aren't registered -- or fail to show appropriate identification -- aren't allowed to vote.

Republican congressional candidate Ed Martin, who's challenging U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, says he also plans to dispatch what he calls his "Count Every Vote Unit."

"It is a team of people who will canvass area polling places to help ensure our area's elections take place in a fair, honest and impartial manner," Martin said in a statement. "The Count Every Vote Unit is comprised of about 300 people - attorneys, poll watcher, and poll challengers. They will broadcast any problems they see via Twitter, Faceboo, and our website. Anyone who suspects fraud or sees anything suspicious is reminded to call and report it to the secretary of state's office."

The Missouri Democratic Party announced this week that it is countering with "voter protection efforts to ensure eligible Missourians are able to cast their ballots on Election Day."

The party says it "will be placing lawyers and other trained volunteers in polling places throughout the state on Election Day. Additionally, the Missouri Democratic Party has also set up a hot line and other information for voters who feel they may have been wrongfully disenfranchised."

What do absentee ballot numbers mean?

For all the talk of energized voters, area absentee ballots cast so far seem to indicate that the public as a whole isn't as keyed up as four years ago. People can vote in person by absentee ballot until 5 p.m. Monday, if they meet the absentee-ballot criteria.

In St. Louis and St. Louis County, the number of absentees cast is running slightly behind the tally of four years ago. In GOP-leaning St. Charles County, the absentees are running slightly ahead of the 2006 number -- but not by much.

As of this afternoon, just under 20,000 have been cast in Democratic-leaning St. Louis County, compared to 24,000 in 2006. In St. Louis, a Democratic stronghold, almost 3,400 have been cast so far. The total in 2006 was just over 4,000.

Republicans point to St. Charles County as evidence that their supporters are more engaged. As of today, that county's officials report about 6,000 absentee ballots have been cast. The total number in 2006 was 6,100.

The less-than-impressive absentee tallies could signal that far more Republicans, or far fewer Democrats, are showing up -- or that voters overall aren't as interested as both major parties' leaders would hope.

Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis, said that the numbers could signal Republican-leaning results.

Robertson suggests that the lower-than-expected absentee numbers could be a sign that voters are being turned off by all the negative ads. Missouri has seen record-setting spending by outside groups, for a mid-term election, with virtually all of those independent ads very negative.

"There are always negative ads," Robertson said. "But this year's crop seem tougher."

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