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Focus Turns to GOTV in New York

Derek Gee/Buffalo News
Republican Jane Corwin is being aided by outside groups, which are pouring money into TV and radio ads as well as targeted get-out-the-vote efforts.

The airwaves of western New York are nearing complete saturation with political ads tied to Tuesday’s special election.

With news that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pumping $60,000 into yet another television advertising campaign, there are now more than 10 political entities — including the three campaigns battling for the open 26th district seat — fueling a steady stream of attack ads on local television and radio stations.

And with the election just six days away, many groups have shifted their attention to the ground game and turnout.

Democrats continue to believe they can steal a seat in one of the Empire State’s most conservative districts, but the GOP and its allies will devote considerable resources to ensure that like-minded voters make it to the polls Tuesday.

The Tea Party Express will begin robocalls today targeting the district’s 70,000 Republican households, according to the national organization’s spokesman, Levi Russell, who is among a handful of Tea Party Express staffers on the ground in western New York this week.

“The idea is to hit every household twice,” he said of the calls that will feature Tea Party Express leader Amy Kremer attacking third-party candidate Jack Davis.

“This is kind of an unusual race where we know so well who we need to target — registered Republican voters,” Russell continued, noting his group will pay for as many as 150,000 robocalls through Election Day and will likely supplement that with a national phone-bank operation. “That means we can hit them with the calls; we can go straight to them rather than hit the airwaves.”

Another conservative outside group, American Crossroads, disclosed plans late Tuesday to spend about $375,000 on the race in the next six days. The investment will include a television and Web ad component, in addition to targeted phone calls and mail to drive turnout.

Republican volunteers from Capitol Hill are expected to flow into the region in the coming days to staff an all-hands-on-deck canvassing effort to support GOP nominee Jane Corwin, who is
now locked in a tight race with Davis and Democrat Kathy Hochul.

“Republicans are mounting an aggressive [get-out-the-vote] effort with enthusiastic volunteers from all over the district who will ensure Western New York families understand that Jane is the only candidate in the race that will cut taxes, reduce spending and create jobs [in] Congress,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in an email.

The Davis campaign — the target of most conservative attacks — joked about the expected influx of Republican supporters.

“Every Republican staffer on Capitol Hill is going to be in New York 26. Don’t go to the bars anytime this weekend because they will be crowded with khaki pants and blue blazers,” said Davis’ campaign manager, Curtis Ellis.

But the get-out-the-vote operations are no laughing matter. And Ellis said the Davis campaign has “thousands of volunteers in the field” to help drive turnout, even without the support of outside organizations.

It’s unclear, however, how well Davis can mobilize a volunteer force, given that he qualified for the ballot by relying on a signature-gathering firm. And while he will appear on the Tea Party ballot line, local tea party groups are divided over whether to support him. The largest one, backed by the Tea Party Express, is spending much of its time attacking Davis.

On the Democratic side, the Working Families Party is managing a $90,000 ground game, fueled largely by an online fundraising campaign from MoveOn.org, to help Hochul.

“We don’t need to compete dollar for dollar with [Karl] Rove and his corporate backers,” Working Families Party Executive Director Dan Cantor wrote in a recent email to supporters. “But we do need to get as much manpower as we can into the district. Our person-to-person grassroots campaign can beat Rove’s TV commercials any day.”

The state Democratic Party is also coordinating phone banking with volunteers, as opposed to robocalls, and has lent a staffer to help the Hochul campaign. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will have a team of paid staffers on the ground as of today.

“Kathy Hochul’s field program is driven by a large and enthusiastic army of grass-roots supporters in western New York,” DCCC spokesman Josh Schwerin said.

“The DCCC has coordinated with the campaign and is helping with volunteers from N.Y. and D.C., as well as phone banking to combat the growing influence of corporate-backed special interest groups rushing in to save Jane Corwin’s floundering campaign,” he added.

Hochul will also benefit from the influence of organized labor, which has been running a canvassing and phone-banking operation for several days.

Various local labor unions have largely ignored local advertising, deciding instead to invest their resources in pushing union members to the polls to support Hochul.

“On TV, it’s like one ad after another, after another, and it gets to the point where you’re not sure what you’re looking at,” said Dana Alas, who is based in Rochester for Local 1199 of the Service Employee International Union and directs member-to-member work.

Alas’ union has been diverting roughly 10 members to the Hochul campaign each day to help. And she expects to have at least 50 people knocking on doors and talking on the phones this weekend.

She is among the many political observers in New York and across the nation surprised by the tightening of the race.

“We didn’t expect to be this busy, but we are glad that we are,” she said.

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