Ground Game: Not Just for Candidates

Photograph by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg

United Steelworkers union members Brett Butler, left, and Joshua Keirsey, center, canvas for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign in a residential neighborhood in Steubenville, Ohio.

Legions of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama supporters will spend this weekend knocking on doors as their get-out-the-vote efforts enter the final, critical stage.

They won’t be alone.

Just as outside groups chimed in on television, in mailers and over the phone, they’ll also be sending their own troops on GOTV missions.

Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit group that industrial billionaires David and Charles Koch helped launch a decade ago, says it will send hundreds of volunteers to doors-knock this weekend, with the goal of reaching 3 million voters.

The group spent about $31 million on ads attacking Obama, part of what it estimated would be a $125 million investment in politics this year. Yet its voter contact effort will be “nonpartisan,” according to a news release today.

“No American should sit this one out,” Tim Phillips, AFP’s president, said in the release. The group’s voter outreach and recent mailers “encourage everyone to remember the principles of economic freedom,” he said.

AFP pushes for less government regulation and lower taxes — issues that dovetail with its preferred presidential candidate, Romney.

Bloomberg went door-knocking with AFP this summer in a neighborhood outside of Tampa. Volunteers and paid AFP staff members asked people how they were feeling about the economy and Obama’s job performance, among other topics. The activists identified themselves as part of a nonpartisan, nonprofit group. Pamphlets they left behind stressed AFP’s preference for issues of economic freedom.

The Democratic groups that Phillips said AFP has patterned itself after will also ramp up voter outreach this weekend.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said yesterday that 128,000 union volunteers will participate in GOTV efforts in these final few days. The umbrella group for unions also has mailed more than 12 million fliers to member households and will provide thousands of poll watchers on Election Day, Trumka said.

Unions have a particularly strong presence in Pennsylvania, where Bloomberg caught up with activists this fall. Union members typically knock on doors of fellow members and of people they’ve identified as being receptive to their appeal for workers’ rights. They don’t call themselves nonpartisan and openly stump for Obama and other Democratic candidates.

In the 18 months leading to Oct. 1, unions had spent about $188.5 million to help federal candidates. That amount largely doesn’t include GOTV, for which unions are best known.

“This is our brand,” Eric Thomas, an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, told Bloomberg as he knocked on doors in a Philadelphia suburb. “Don’t nobody do it like we do.”

What do you think about this article? Comment below!