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CAMPAIGN 2000

Hooking Potential Voters, Any Way They Can

Election: From the Net to wrestling events, groups are angling to attract registrants. The parties are spending millions of dollars for outreach.

October 14, 2000|DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This year, it seems, there's a get-out-the-vote effort for just about every constituency you can imagine: gays and fundamentalist Christians, students and single people.

One voter group is smackin' down its cause at wrestling matches.

Another is extending chauffeur service to disabled voters.

And another is waiting outside mosques each Friday afternoon.

"There are more and more groups figuring out more and more angles and wrinkles," said UC Berkeley political science professor Raymond Wolfinger. "Every conceivable kind of activity that has a hook in the public wants people registered, whether for PR or for political influence."

In recent years, voter outreach campaigns have grown more vocal. But this year's registration and voter drives are worth noting in what is still an incredibly tight presidential race between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"We welcome other groups being involved," said Jenny Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. The DNC will spend more than $20 million in voter outreach this campaign through canvassing, bilingual media spots and phone calls. "Democrats win when more people vote," Backus said.

Terry Holt, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said successful voter outreach doesn't just sign people up--it has to fire them up. "You have to give people reasons to go to the polls. You need to be hopeful but still clear about the differences between you and your opponent."

Republicans Try Ads, Calls, Latino Outreach

The Republican Party is spending $40 million in voter outreach this year to do just that with ads, phone calls and a new Latino outreach that relies on bilingual messages and its first campaign office in East Los Angeles.

While some groups view getting out the vote as a civic responsibility, others say it can refresh a group's public image as well as earn it clout with the politicians they might help get elected.

For example, the "Smackdown Your Vote!" registration drive by the World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. allows the company, which went public last year, to curry favor with the Republicans, the party much of its audience supports, says its vice president of corporate communications, Gary Davis.

"And what could be more ideal than doing voter registration in a presidential election year?" Davis asked. "We wanted to represent our fans: Middle America."

So it was a win-win situation when wrestling icon "The Rock" appeared onstage at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in the summer.

"That got our fans interested," Davis said. This summer, WWF Entertainment launched "Smackdown" with booths set up at WWF matches and an extensive Web site. Its organizers hope to register at least a small portion of its 14 million viewers. So far, Davis said, it has registered more than 91,000 voters in two months.

The company's Web site is linked to Project VoteSmart, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voter education organization, and Youth Vote 2000, a nonprofit, nonpartisan project whose 22 full-time staffers sign up eligible voters on college campuses across the country.

Another online registration tool, WeMedia.com, targets the disabled with information on registration, absentee ballots and how to get to the polls on election day.

"State parties say they'll make the rides available--and they do--but they don't have the wherewithal to get that information to the voters ahead of time," said Caryn Kaufman, director of communications for WeMedia, a 3-year-old New York-based media company that targets people with disabilities. In the last month, Kaufman counted 6,130 individuals who registered to vote through WeMedia.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations launched a one-month registration drive in August to target eligible voters among the estimated 6 million Muslims in the country. Volunteers signed up eligible voters as they emerged from mosques after Friday afternoon communal prayer sessions.

Muslims, Gays Look to Increase Voter Clout

Council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said an "unprecedented" number of Muslims had been registered, although he could not determine how many had joined the voter rolls as a result.

"[But] it's clear that the Muslim community is growing and having an impact on states like Michigan and California," said Hooper, citing the eagerness of the Muslim community to protect itself from U.S. government suspicion of links to terrorism.

Another group looking to increase its voter clout is the gay community. Raise the Bar, a nonprofit group, was formed in July and has since sent out slick 30-second video ads to more than 750 gay and lesbian bars and clubs and coffeehouses. The ads tear apart Bush's record as governor of Texas, condemning him for his silence on AIDS and his lack of support for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

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