Scott Jackson, 30, calls voters at an election day phone bank run by Americans… (Matea Gold / Los Angeles…)
RICHMOND, Va. — Inside a low-slung brick building off a busy commercial corridor, a half-dozen volunteers with the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity were juggling cell phones Tuesday morning as they made one final push to get voters to the polls.
“I know you’ve probably gotten a million calls, but I’m just calling one more time because this election is so critical,” said Scott Jackson, a 30-year-old bartender, sitting below a bulletin board festooned with signs that declared “CUT SPENDING” and “Socialism Isn’t Cool.”
AFP has been one of the biggest independent spenders of the 2012 elections, pouring $75 million into media ads this year lamenting the direction of the country under President Obama and other Democrats. Less evident has been the tens of millions of dollars it has pumped into field organizing -- an effort that president Tim Phillips said has helped conservatives match the ground game of the left this time.
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“I think that the conservative turnout and the conservative base vote will be the largest in a generation,” he said. “The intensity is there.”
When it came to the ground game, “the left had a monopoly for decades,” Phillips added. “We are matching them because we have the infrastructure – the offices and the staff – and the technology and the money.”
As a 501(c)4 “social welfare organization,” AFP does not have to report its donors or its field work to the Federal Election Commission, but the billionaire Koch brothers have acknowledged that they have been long-time backers of its efforts.
In Virginia, where the group is headquartered, several hundred volunteers began calling voters Friday to remind them to vote, with the aim of reaching 200,000 by the end of the day Tuesday, said state director Audrey Jackson. The effort is nonpartisan – volunteers do not bring up any issues or urge voters to support any candidate.
The GOTV program follows a more extensive “education” effort in which AFP staff and volunteers knocked on 20,000 doors and made 1 million calls to centrist voters in Virginia to press the group’s message about how the Obama administration has failed to rein in the country’s debt or create a robust energy policy.
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AFP works closely with other conservative groups, sharing a computerized phone database with organizations such as the National Rifle Assn. and Concerned Women of America. The program, referred to inside AFP as “Freedom Phones,” allows volunteers to dial into a number from anywhere, and then routes them automatically to the next caller on the list.
The flexibility has allowed many stay-at-home moms to participate, Jackson said, adding: “There are a lot of principled individuals who share in our belief in economic freedom.”
She was joined Tuesday by an array of volunteers in the bare-bones office space that AFP rents from the Virginia Christian Alliance: a lawyer, an unemployed customer service agent, a college professor. A shepherd mix dog -- named Reagan, after the president -- wandered the hall decked out in a green AFP t-shirt.
Matthew O’Keeffe, 27, said he was helping the organization because he feels strongly that under Obama, “my rights are being infringed upon.”
“Regulations have gotten so bad that you now have businesses going under,” said O’Keeffe, who said he lost his job in customer service for an electronics company last year when the company foundered.
Ken Malloy, 60, who teaches economics at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., said he and his wife got involved with AFP when they became active in the tea party movement in 2009.
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“My son asked me what country he could move to that offered the promise that America used to, and that hit me like a two-by-four,” Malloy said. “Most people assume AFP is an arm of the Republican Party. The thing I like about it is that it stands for a set of principles more than a set of candidates.”
Malloy noted that he was not a Mitt Romney supporter when the 2012 contest started.
“I first fell in love with Herman Cain,” he said. “I’ve always liked Newt Gingrich. I had my little dalliances.”
But on Tuesday, he said, “I voted pro-Romney, not against Obama.”
The turn for him came watching Romney at the debates. Malloy said he was impressed with Romney's style and his command of the facts. “I came to realize that he is the most fundamentally decent man who has ever run. His seemingly miracle-like ability to take challenges and turn them into positive results is just remarkable.”
“This guy is like the turtle that could,” Malloy added. “He was never anyone’s first choice.”
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