The razor-thin presidential race seems to have almost bypassed Buffalo, but some area residents are finding ways to take part in the campaigning anyway – mostly by leaving home.
The Communications Workers of America Local 1122 sent a busload of volunteers to Cleveland on Saturday, and it’s just one of several union- and campaign-backed efforts to get Western New York manpower involved in the battle between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in the key swing state of Ohio.
Meanwhile, both parties are dipping into one of Buffalo’s most abundant resources – lawyers – and deploying them to swing states, where they will be primed to swing into action to deal with voting problems and possible legal challenges to close results.
And all weekend long, as they have for weeks, a group of conservatives will be manning the phones to identify right-leaning Ohio voters and encourage them to get to the polls.
This is how a presidential election plays out for the political class in a non-swing state.
With Obama expected to sweep to an easy victory in cobalt-blue New York, local political types simply go where they’re needed.
“We feel it’s very important that we go to Ohio and engage voters and get out the vote for President Obama,” said James Wagner, president of the CWA local that sent that bus southwest on Saturday. “We’ll be specifically targeting labor families.”
Families of all types are being targeted in Ohio, and for good reason. The state has sided with the winner in 26 of the 28 last presidential elections, and according to Nate Silver, the statistical guru behind the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, it’s the “tipping point” state most likely to decide the election this year.
That being the case, several local unions have been busing people to the Buckeye State on recent weekends to canvass neighborhoods on behalf of the president, said Richard Lipsitz, president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation.
And that’s just part of the president’s local get-out-the-vote effort.
Obama for America is “exporting volunteers to Ohio (primarily from Western NY),” said Robert Diamond, the group’s New York State director, in a memo Friday.
Local Republicans have been less active in getting boots on the ground in Ohio, and for a reason.
“We haven’t been organizing a lot of people to go out of state, because we have targeted races here,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy.
Those local races center on efforts to defeat Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, and re-elect State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo.
Nevertheless, the Erie County GOP’s attorney, Emilio Colaicovo, finds himself in Columbus, Ohio, as part of a team of lawyers prepared to come to Mitt Romney’s aid as the election unfolds.
“I’m part of a war room in Columbus where lawyers such as myself will address electoral problems,” said Colaicovo, who was asked to join the Romney effort after serving as a local surrogate for the Republican nominee in Western New York.
The central concern will be provisional ballots, which are given to voters who go to the voting stations without the proper proof of Ohio residency, Colaicovo said.
With national polls showing an extraordinarily close race, both sides are lawyering up, and in a big way. The New York Times reported Friday that thousands of lawyers will be deployed to voting places to observe the behavior of poll workers and voters – and to take part in legal action if necessary.
That’s expected to happen only if the election hinges on the results in a state that’s too close to call on election night, where provisional or absentee or disputed ballots could decide the outcome. Such scenarios are rare, but one unfolded in Florida 12 years ago, when the state’s electoral votes and the presidency swung to Republican George W. Bush only after the U.S. Supreme Court said they should.
Not surprisingly, then, other political lawyers – such as Buffalo Democratic operative and former county party chairman G. Steven Pigeon – have found their way to the Sunshine State.
Pigeon is poised to help if legal problems emerge with the vote in Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale. He said Republicans are trying to suppress the vote in minority and poor communities, and that could have big consequences.
Pigeon said he’s also involved in get-out-the vote efforts in Broward County, in a state where he has political experience dating back decades.
“I’m a utility player,” Pigeon said.
Back in Buffalo, longtime Republican activist Russ Gugino is coordinating a call center for Concerned Veterans for America, a 501(c)(4) political organization that is not allowed to directly advocate for Mitt Romney but that nonetheless aims to steer votes Romney’s way.
Calling targeted homes in Ohio, the Buffalo volunteers for the veterans group ask voters two questions: if they’re happy with the way things are going in the country, and if they have voted or if they are planning to vote.
Those who are unhappy with the way things are going will get a follow-up call on Election Day, encouraging them to vote – and because they’re unhappy, they’re likely to vote for Romney, Gugino said.
Gary Berntsen, a former U.S. Senate candidate from New York who is now the conservative veterans group’s director for the state of Florida, told Gugino that calling the Ohioans would be a good option for the volunteers from Buffalo.
“Gary called me and said: People in Ohio don’t want to hear southern accents,” Gugino said. “They want to hear the Buffalo nasal accent.”
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