It could be the difference between who wins and who loses.
The phone calling and the knocking on doors won’t stop until the polls close Tuesday night in the hard-fought contest in the 27th Congressional District, where incumbent Democrat Kathleen C. Hochul is trying to repeat her 2011 special election victory in heavily Republican territory, this time against Republican Chris Collins.
“Getting out the vote, especially in these local races, where it could come down to a few hundred votes, the get-out-the-vote efforts could make the difference,” said Tom Brede, a veteran of Sen. Harry Reid’s tough 2010 campaign in Nevada who is now with Eric Mower + Associates.
That is especially true in this congressional race. The latest Buffalo News/WGRZ poll released Sunday puts Collins ahead by 1 percentage point, with 4 percent of likely voters undecided. One percent of those polled said they would not be voting.
So how do the candidates get out the vote?
Volunteers are concentrated in nondescript office parks and strip malls and also spread out in neighborhoods across the sprawling, largely rural eight-county district. They use sophisticated technology to target voters and phones that employ automated dialers, as well as more conventional methods such as going door-to-door in villages and subdivisions.
“It’s talking to as many people as you can as many times as you can,” said Hochul spokesman Francis Thomas.
“It’s basically what you work for the whole time,” said Collins campaign adviser Christopher M. Grant. “You can have the best message in the world, but if 100 people get out to vote, you’re going to lose.”
Each campaign boasts it has the better ground game.
The Collins campaign will check Tuesday with election inspectors to see who voted, and who still needs to, information they will use to target voters while the polls are open.
The Hochul campaign won’t be going to those lengths, Thomas said, but it has hundreds of volunteers making hundreds of thousands of voter contacts and providing rides.
Both campaigns stress that many of their volunteers have a connection to the district. But there will be outside help for each candidate, too, from out-of-state party volunteers to labor unions to at least one super political action committee, American Action Network, which is supporting Collins with a local phone bank.
In a campaign that has been filled with a steady stream of negative television commercials and direct mail, the campaigns don’t seem to worry about contacting voters too many times.
“I think the effectiveness of trying to talk to people as many times as we can far outweighs any individual frustration people might have with getting communicated with too many times,” Thomas said. “I think at the end of the day, someone might be frustrated with how many times we’ve called them, but even if they are, I think when they actually go to cast their ballot, they’ll be thinking of Kathy when they do that.”
The Hochul campaign planned for more than 1,000 four-hour volunteer shifts to be filled over “get-out-the-vote weekend,” which started Saturday and ends Tuesday evening.
More than 600 volunteers had already made 300,000 phone calls and knocked on 40,000 doors since the Hochul campaign began, with a goal of an additional 200,000 phone calls from Saturday through Tuesday.
The campaign has reached out to Republicans they think they can persuade to vote for Hochul and unaffiliated voters, using information from previous elections and polling data that tells them who to target.
“The reality is, it’s a very Republican district,” Thomas said. “I don’t think we were under the perspective that we were going to win without getting a certain number of Republicans.”
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by 8 percentage points.
The focus in the last days is on making sure people have what they need to vote, including a ride, Thomas said. Volunteers also make sure voters know what their ballot will look like and what their polling place is located.
Collins has been assisted by House Speaker John A. Boehner’s political operation, which has set up “victory centers” in states such as New York that are not competitive in the presidential race and don’t have a strong party infrastructure that can make an impact in House races.
“We spend a lot of time and energy in terms of analyzing voters in terms of figuring out who the most likely ones are to vote and how open they are to a message from Chris,” Grant said.
As of late last week, the “victory center” in the 27th District was leading in voter contacts among 10 such centers in the state, Grant said. The campaign had made more than 250,000 voter contacts over the phone and door-to-door.
When voters are contacted, their responses are tracked. Voters who ask not to be called again are taken off the list.
The Collins campaign mobilized about 350 volunteers for the final push, which Grant says “ends at 8:59 on Tuesday night.”