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Homestretch: We've Got Mail

A campaign waged largely over airwaves gets postage-heavy this final week with a blitz of mailings targeting defined voter groups.

September 30, 2003|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

An election that so far has been fought mainly over the airwaves dives into voters' mailboxes this week as campaigns, unions and independent committees launch last-minute mail blitzes in hopes of steering the results of California's historic recall race.

Some of the mailers, such as one planned by the state Republican Party, are simple requests to vote to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis without backing a specific candidate to replace him.

Others are sharper in tone, such as a California Federation of Labor anti-recall flier that includes a photograph of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger embracing his campaign manager, former Gov. Pete Wilson, and warning that a Republican victory threatens a rollback of union gains.

Candidates have employed mass mailings to varying degrees. Aides say the Schwarzenegger campaign has sent out more than 2 million pieces of mail, while state Sen. Tom McClintock will switch his spending to television after having sent out up to half a million mailers. Davis has done little direct mailing, and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has avoided the tactic altogether.

Such diverse organizations as labor unions, Christian conservative groups, Native American tribes and the state Republican and Democratic parties are preparing a sophisticated series of mailings targeting supporters -- in some cases homing in on those who have not cast absentee ballots and who have a history of voting sporadically.

No one knows for sure how many mailers will be delivered by next Tuesday, but state Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland estimated that there will be a dozen statewide efforts augmented by local and regional campaigns as politically active organizations seek to rally their members.

"In some cases, voters will become targets for two or three groups," Mulholland said.

Mailings vary in cost, depending on their size and printing quality, but some groups are sending out items in mass quantities for as little as 30 cents per item.

The Schwarzenegger campaign has already done two mailings on its own, and more are planned, said spokesman Rob Stutzman. He declined to detail what the campaign plans for the final week but said it has already sent out 2.25 million mailers urging Republicans to apply for absentee ballots, followed by a 500,000-piece "chase" mailing urging those who requested absentee ballots to use them.

"It's a substantial and important part of our voter-contact program," Stutzman said.

McClintock's campaign has also sent up to 500,000 mailers to Republicans, and the conservative California Republican Assembly added its own mailing to back the conservative legislator's effort. No more McClintock mailers are planned for the final week, though, as the campaign focuses on broadcast ads, said John Stoos, McClintock's deputy campaign manager.

Of the major candidates, only Bustamante has done no mass mailing. Campaign manager Lynn Montgomery said the campaign opted for broadcast ads and trying to position Bustamante for news coverage.

"It's more our limited resources -- there's such a short amount of time to do what we need to do," Montgomery said. "We're trying to reach as many people as we can through the mass media."

Similarly, Davis' No on the Recall campaign has done little mailing on its own, letting allies such as labor unions and environmental and women's groups contact their own people.

"We think it's more effective for labor households to hear from labor leaders, and for women to hear from Planned Parenthood," said Steve Smith, Davis' campaign director.

The "no on recall" and "yes on Bustamante" themes are getting plenty of play in those outside mailers. The most extensive effort appears to be by California unions, led by the California Federation of Labor, which is sending at least six waves of mailers totaling 3 million pieces -- part of a $5-million labor effort to defeat the recall or, if unsuccessful, to elect Bustamante.

At least one mailer, which argues that replacing Davis with a Republican could hurt unions, is tailored to various groups.

"We've got one version for men, one version for women and another version for Latinos," said communications director Nathan Ballard. "There are subtle differences based on what individual parts of the membership respond to."

Part of the effort includes tailoring 115 versions of the ballot showing union members where to find the recall question and Bustamante's name.

The replicas follow the confusing contours of the official ballot, in which the order of the candidates varies by Assembly district and the ballots themselves are published by county election officials. So voters on opposite sides of a county line but within a single Assembly district will encounter two different-looking ballots.

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