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California and the West

Language of War Invades Plans to Deploy Election Day Troops

November 03, 1998|PETER Y. HONG and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Campaign talk during the final hours of an election season inevitably reverts to the language of war. In the twilight's last gleaming before voting ends today at 8 p.m., organizers for candidates, parties and propositions talk of rallying the troops, parachuting into tight districts and taking turf block by block.

After the strategic attack ads and verbal mudslinging that builds over weeks and months in a race, the final countdown to the closing of polls brings tactical strikes, commando raids and hand-to-hand combat--as in glad-handing--by thousands of volunteers and paid campaign workers.

So wearying are the final charges that California Republican Party political director Mike Madrid said he felt like he was "fighting combat fatigue."

At the receiving end of these efforts, it may be voters who become fatigued. Likely voters in swing neighborhoods may well be visited repeatedly at the door and on the phone by candidates and boosters, and probably have several offers for rides to polling places.

Armed with the latest polling results, campaigners now know in which battles they need to fight to win their wars.

"We're deploying our troops where they're most needed," to a few Assembly districts and neighborhoods, said Fabian Nunez, political director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which sends out thousands of fieldworkers for Democratic candidates.

The Labor Federation's final charge includes night and early morning raids of workers hanging fliers on doorknobs. "Our biggest investment now is in flashlights. We just bought 1,200," Nunez said.

Both major parties will land nearly 10,000 volunteers in get-out-the-vote efforts at polling places and precincts throughout the day. The ground troops will scout whether voters have cast ballots, and, if not, call and visit their homes.

So large a production is the election that the Gray Davis campaign is receiving help from Merv Griffin Productions, whose workers need to start blowing up the 5,000 balloons at 9 o'clock this morning for tonight's party at the the Regal Biltmore Hotel. It will take several workers until about 2:30 p.m. to blow up all of the balloons--even with the aid of an air compressor.

The Democratic Party will have hundreds of volunteers standing on street corners waving "Davis" and "Boxer" campaign signs in a final push for votes. Another wave of thousands of volunteers will hit neighborhoods as early as 6 a.m. hanging campaign fliers on doorknobs. And still, another wave will swing by polling places to make sure they are open by 7 a.m.

No detail was too small, as party officials worked furiously to make final arrangements.

"I've spent the last half-hour on the phone making arrangements to rent cell phones so that all my drivers will be able to communicate with us so we can keep them moving," said Eric Bauman, communications director for the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Madrid said Republican volunteers are calling voters in six languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean and Spanish. He said Matt Fong's U.S. Senate campaign has generated enthusiasm in the Asian American community. "You see a lot more volunteers from diverse backgrounds," he said.

Madrid said volunteers will go to the polls about every two hours to check whether expected GOP supporters have voted. If they haven't, "We go to your house and say, hey, we need your vote."

Campaign Decorations

At the GOP party to be attended by gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach, volunteers will "decorate the place like mad" blowing up thousands of balloons and putting up campaign signs and red, white and blue banners, but they won't begin decorating until 5 p.m., said Bill Christiansen, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County. "We don't let them do the fun stuff until they work precincts."

Those who live on the front lines also may get a taste of preelection mischief, awaking this morning to find lawn signs for their favored candidates missing, mysteriously replaced by an opponent's.

Los Angeles City Atty. James Hahn, who began working on campaigns at age 10 for his father, the late Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, acknowledged that one longtime staple of 11th-hour campaigning is sign stealing, or "sniping."

"I never took down an opponent's sign," Hahn said when asked about his own time in the trenches. But Hahn did admit to some clandestine ventures. Hahn recalled that as a teenager he led a squad of friends who would climb up the scaffolding of billboards, slapping Hahn bumper stickers across the bikinis of models on sunscreen billboards.

Hahn emphasized that "the statute of limitations has long passed" covering his activities.

Campaign organizations aren't the only ones fielding battalions of workers. Election officials also sound like generals.

"The administration of a countywide election is akin to a major military deployment," said L.A. County Registrar-Recorder-County Clerk Conny B. McCormack.

There is the army of 24,495 volunteers who staff the 4,899 polling places. There are the scores of sheriff's deputies who transport the ballots--by car and by helicopter--from as far away as Catalina Island and the Antelope Valley to the vote-counting center in Norwalk.

And there are the telephone company people who have installed hundreds of phones--at hotels, at elections central, at party headquarters. There are even the volunteers who check to make sure that every polling place has an American flag.

Back at campaign headquarters, others wave another symbol of American politics. According to Hahn, donors often come running into campaign offices on election day, checks in hand. "It's like people rushing to get their votes in before a horse race," he said.

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