If you're a woman and a registered Democrat, but don't always vote, Bill Press has your name, address and phone number. And he's passing it around. Somebody will be calling.
That would be "Bill Press, True American"--if you've ever caught his Saturday afternoon talk show on KFI radio in Los Angeles. The same Press who for nine years did liberal commentary on KABC-TV. In another life he is chairman of the California Democratic Party.
And this fall the party, for the first time ever, is "targeting" what it calls "low-propensity Democratic women voters." These are women who vote only occasionally. For the purposes of this strategy, they voted in neither of the last two gubernatorial contests--the 1990 general or 1994 primary. But they did vote in the 1992 fall presidential election.
There are an estimated 1.4 million such women among California's 14 million-plus registered voters. And the party's goal is to increase their turnout on Nov. 8 by 10%, or 140,000. That would mean 2% of the vote if only half the voters cast ballots, and it could provide the winning margin in a close race.
The Democratic hierarchy is terrified by the prospect of a low turnout, which traditionally helps Republican candidates. In the June primary, the turnout was only 35%. And although a higher percentage historically votes in November, Press foresees a potential 5% dropoff just because people will be riveted on the O.J. Simpson trial.
"The trial's going to be high theater, and few people are going to be focused on the election," Press predicts. "Our message basically is going to be, 'You can still watch (the trial on) TV and vote.' "
The only way to watch TV and vote simultaneously, of course, is to cast a ballot by mail. The Republican Party is the master of absentee voting. George Deukmejian was elected governor in 1982 because of it, and most of Gov. Pete Wilson's margin of victory in 1990 was provided by mail voting.
So this fall, the Democratic Party plans to mail each targeted woman an absentee voter application. And if she loses that one, it will mail another and another, up to three. She'll also be getting phone calls asking what she's doing with all this mail.
There'll be other calls--"persuasion calls" in political parlance--aimed at selling the party ticket and recruiting volunteers. "Persuasion calls" will be followed by "persuasion mail," up to two pieces.
Party strategists obviously hope that Democratic women who ordinarily might not vote will be inspired by the prospect of electing California's first woman governor--Treasurer Kathleen Brown--and helping Sen. Dianne Feinstein retain her seat. She's the first California woman ever to hold that office.
It's an ambitious agenda and includes more: Registering 600,000 new Democrats (the party's about halfway there), targeting perhaps 500,000 Democratic men who are lax voters, and getting out the vote with precinct walkers and phone banks on Election Day.
Says one veteran Democratic strategist who insisted on anonymity: "To get out the grass-roots vote for Kathleen Brown is going to cost a lot of money, and it's going to be root canal. We're going to have to forklift people out of their houses to vote. . . .
"With Bill Clinton (in 1992), it was like leaves in the fall. All you had to do was rake them up. But there's no leaves from this tree. We're going to have to go out and shake the tree because this campaign hasn't generated a lot of excitement."
The tab for all this tree shaking will be $9 million if Press and his party can raise that much. They've taken in about $4 million so far, he says. The Brown campaign is putting up $2 million because its manager, Clinton Reilly, is a strong believer in a behind-the-scenes "ground game" or "fieldwork," as the pros call it.
Already, 30 field offices have been opened and 300 paid workers are being hired to direct the expected thousands of volunteers.
Everybody remembers 1990--especially Feinstein, the losing gubernatorial candidate--when the party under the chairmanship of Jerry Brown virtually ignored fieldwork. Wilson didn't, and he isn't this time either.
Republicans expect to spend only about $4.5 million--half the Democrats' budget--but the GOP's task is less daunting because of higher voter loyalty. They'll be mailing absentee ballots in early October and attempting to field 15,000 volunteers on Election Day.
Of course, no other Western democracy makes it so difficult to register and vote. And Wilson could have helped by implementing the new federal motor-voter law that allowed people to register in DMV and welfare offices. But he refused, blaming lack of money.
Many of these new voters would have been Democratic women.