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Interest Groups Firing Up the Electorate : Politics: Activists work phones, distribute literature in unprecedented effort to get out the vote. They are motivated by high-stakes races.

November 05, 1994|SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Hoping to persuade the cynical and move the faithful to action, activists within the Christian Coalition are passing out 33 million voter guides to elections from coast to coast and hope to make 2 million phone calls for their candidates by the Tuesday election.

In several states, the AFL-CIO's phone banks are now humming day and night and environmental advocates are working side by side with favored candidates' workers in a handful of races considered crucial for their cause.

If there is anything more frenzied than the candidates in the final days before this midterm election, it is the bevy of interest groups that, for a variety of reasons, are investing more, working harder and getting more directly involved than ever before, political experts said.

It's a "super blitz," says John Myers, a Philadelphia political organizer. "I've done get-out-the-vote efforts on two other occasions but never to this extent."

One reason for the intense interest is that the stakes are exceptionally high this year--with the Republicans hoping to capitalize on voter anger and seize an outright majority in the Senate and at least working control, if not a numerical majority, in the House. Those possibilities have given energy to voters on the right far more than on the left, however, forcing many liberal political organizations to scramble to create interest and boost turnout.

In broader terms, many organizations see the 1994 contest as a pivotal point in a struggle for the soul of government and the values of American society.

"Attacks on religious conservatives by Democratic candidates and even the Clinton Administration have been so virulent that it is energizing and driving religious conservatives to the polls," said Mike Russell, spokesman for the Christian Coalition, which is based in Chesapeake, Va.

On the other side, Arthur J. Kropp, president of People for the American Way Action Fund, a Washington-based liberal organization, said that the "Christian Coalition and its allies are working to be the nuts and bolts of the Republican Party. From that position they will shape GOP ideology, strategies and candidate selection for years to come."

For conservative organizations, the election is the payoff for two years of vigorous work that began when President Clinton was elected.

"In an off-year election, typically you see a lot of voter apathy," Russell said. "But this time around our constituency is energized because we have been so insulted and marginalized as a segment of the population that shouldn't be heard."

As added insurance, he said, the coalition is spending at least $1 million to publish and distribute by hand its voter's guide. Another $1 million may be spent on its phone banks between now and Election Day.

Many groups on the left are hustling double-time to offset such conservative efforts.

Frank Smith, executive director of Boston-based Green Vote and a longtime liberal political fund-raiser, said that, even before this election cycle, conservative groups like the Christian Coalition have demonstrated a mastery of the political end game by burying the opposition with money and literature in the closing days of campaigns.

"Many progressive activists and donors prefer to work on policy and show disdain for the real work of electing politicians," he said. "The right wing understands that politics in the United States is policy" so they work harder in the final day to get their people in office.

Interest groups on the left are fearful because many Democratic voters this year seem less interested in the election. Myers, for example, has expanded the traditional drive to boost voter turnout.

"Usually we did the super blitzes only on Election Day but, because so many people are apathetic or don't seem focused on the issues or candidates, we felt it was necessary to make our efforts more repetitive," he said. He said that he has organized 10 teams of 14 people to visit bus stops and major transit points, knock on doors and display posters all aimed at persuading people to vote.

In several states, AFL-CIO volunteers are telephoning union members to urge them to support candidates endorsed by their state labor organizations, said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman in the organization's Washington office.

Some organizations are lending support directly to individual campaigns. For example, Stephanie H. Sanchez, an environmental fellow for the League of Conservation Voters, has joined the campaign for Jim Maloney, a four-term Democratic state senator seeking to unseat GOP Rep. Gary Franks in Connecticut's 5th Congressional District.

"The league placed me in this campaign," she said. "Our mission is to elect pro-environmental candidates."

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