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Davis, Simon Hustle Votes 5 Days Ahead of Election

Candidates try to drum up support amid prospects for a record low turnout on Tuesday.

November 01, 2002|Matea Gold and Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writers

With a spare five days to go, the focus of the governor's race turned Thursday to the gritty work of getting out the vote, as the campaigns of Gray Davis and Bill Simon Jr. launched their final push to propel supporters to the polls.

The governor dropped by Democratic field offices in Compton and Long Beach, where he urged people to turn out Tuesday, and even called a few voters himself.

Republican Simon campaigned in Santa Monica with former congressman and GOP veteran Jack Kemp and then moved on to his Pacific Palisades headquarters, where he and his wife tried to whip up enthusiasm among campaign volunteers.

While the candidates were supplying the rhetoric, the manpower was being deployed by a host of organizations, both allied and separate from the campaigns, all working to benefit the governor's race and a variety of other contests and issues that voters will decide on Tuesday.

The traditional pushing and prodding of voters in the final hours before election day -- known as GOTV, for get out the vote -- is taking on even greater importance this year, with turnout expected to sink to near-record lows.

Although a Times poll published Tuesday showed Davis with a solid lead over Simon, backers of both candidates say the lack of enthusiasm for either man could keep voters at home and change the dynamics of the election.

"There is still a chance the race could be close, if people don't see the value of turning out," said Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation, which directs one of the largest GOTV efforts in the state.

David Roth, who is directing the Simon campaign in Solano County, added: "This whole election will be about turnout."

California voters can expect to be barraged with GOTV appeals right up until election day. More than a million Republicans will be getting taped phone messages from President Bush. An even greater number of Democrats will get recorded calls from former President Clinton. Thousands of glossy campaign mailers are flooding into mailboxes.

And on Tuesday, many residents will receive a knock on the door and an offer of a ride to their polling place.

Davis told supporters Thursday in Long Beach that "polls don't vote; people vote."

The governor asked the crowd of 150 -- most of them union members and students -- gathered in the campaign field office to volunteer a few hours of their time before election day, offering in exchange to pose for a photo with them.

"Everyone says no one is going to vote, and we have to prove them wrong," the governor said.

Up the coast, Simon and his wife, Cindy, visited his campaign office in Pacific Palisades. "What we need to be sure to do from this moment on, really, all of us here ... is get out the vote," Cindy Simon told two dozen supporters and friends.

"It's going to be such a close election," she said. "I mean, it's going to be this close. It's like Indiana basketball -- right down to the wire."

Faced with an electorate uninspired by the two men at the top of the major party tickets, GOTV organizers have been forced to come up with other reasons for voters to turn out. Democrats warn supporters of the potential return of a Republican governor, like Davis' predecessor Pete Wilson, and cite Florida's tight 2000 election, which decided the presidential race. Republicans, meanwhile, appeal to frustration with the current governor.

Bolstered by labor union support, Democrats have traditionally enjoyed an advantage in getting out the vote in California. The United Farm Workers is targeting 125,000 families with occasional or newly registered voters in three heavily Latino areas: the Coachella Valley, Salinas and the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Beginning this weekend, the UFW -- ostensibly nonpartisan, although the union has strong Democratic Party ties -- will commit 1,300 activists working 12-hour shifts to motivate registered voters to cast their ballots, said union spokesman Marc Grosman.

The California Labor Federation -- which represents about 2 million people -- is using traditional tactics such as phone banks and precinct-walking to reach voters. But the federation has also emphasized what it calls work-site programs, in which shop stewards talk to union members during breaks about where the candidates stand on issues such as overtime pay and paid family leave.

"I think people are starting to believe that Simon has shot himself in the foot enough times that there's not an urgency to the moment," the federation's Pulaski said. " ... We have to remind people what elections are about."

The state Democratic Party has its own coordinated $5-million GOTV effort for its slate, and the Davis campaign is spending an additional $4 million on mailers and phone banks. The thrust of their attention is voters who don't usually go to the polls.

"In a low-turnout situation, it's going to be the performance of these occasional voters that counts," said Larry Grisolano, Davis' campaign director.

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