Massive Ground Game Underway in Senate Race

Between the candidate campaigns and Outside groups, nearly $52 million has been spent to try to influence your vote in the U.S. Senate race. Much of that is spent on advertising, for Sen. Mark Begich or Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. But in the end, every race is decided by who actually turns out to vote, so there’s a ground game underway.
If you just look at the number of groups on the ground, the Begich side seems to have the edge.
“I can tell you that we’ve got a bigger operation in the state of Alaska than we’ve ever had before. On Saturday we had about 130 -140 people out walking, knocking on doors,” said Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami. “We’re doing phone banks nightly. We’re walking during the week.”
The unions are big supporters of Begich, and Beltrami says they’re bringing in union members from out of state to pitch in.
“We actually have a campaign headquarters we had to rent because our offices weren’t big enough. So I had to rent a 7,000 square foot facility to house all the release staff and the volunteers we have doing all the work,” he said.
In addition to the union effort, a group called Alaska Salmon PAC is in the field with about 30 paid foot soldiers a day. They’re backed by $1.4 million from League of Conservation Voters. Plus, Working America is here. That’s a national AFL-CIO campaign aimed at non-union members. On a recent Sunday, they had several dozen paid canvassers working in Anchorage, including Rob Gruss. He carries an iPad that shows him which doors to target and who lives there.
He knocks on GeorgeAnne Sprinkle’s door, then stands back a few feet, to be better seen from the living room windows.
Gruss, from Ohio, has been doing work like this around the country for four years. At some doors, no one responds, even though it sounds like someone’s home. Sprinkle answered but she wasn’t happy about it.
“Oh sheesh you guys are Begichers?” she said, her voice rising with exasperation.
She says she’s had multiple visits from Begich supporters. Gruss knows that’s true because he’s knocked on her door before. And he’s unapologetic about saying he might be back.
“It’s extremely important. That’s how we win,” he said.
While voters may see the person on their doorstep as part of the barrage of political communication that’s burying them this election season, Gruss has a different take.
“What we’re doing I believe when we come to folks’ doors with somebody who really cares, like myself is we’re cutting through a lot of that red tape, a lot of that misinformation that’s Spewed on radio, spewed on television, spewed blatantly on the Internet,” he said.
Door-knockers give out literature and make their pitches, usually targeting voters deemed persuadable. They also collect information on iPads and clipboards – those who are noncommittal, or iffy about whether they’re going to vote are marked for future visits. Both sides are cagey about what data they collect and how they use them.
Kyle Kohli , Republican National Committee spokesman for Alaska didn’t want to reveal the Republican script, what his volunteers say at each door.
“We identify who we’re talking to. It’s data driven. We know who our supporters are. We know which voters we need to turn out in order to win on Election Day and that’s what we’re out here to execute,” he said.
The RNC, the Sullivan Campaign and the state Republican Party are running a joint field operation. They have 11 paid staff. Kohli says they had “hundreds” of doorknockers in the field this weekend, a large number in Anchorage and most of them volunteers.
Will Friar, a civil engineer, is a regular. He recently spent several minutes talking at the threshold of one south Anchorage house.
“He’s definitely a Sullivan supporter but he’s a little leery about whether he’s going to vote or not,” Friar said afterward in the driveway. “So we just chatted about the importance of the election. We have these cards we can get them to sign that says ‘yes, I will vote’ … and it just gets a little more commitment out of them.”
The Democrats have about 90 paid staffers, and Kohli, the RNC spokesman, acknowledges he’s outnumbered on that score but says that doesn’t mean much.
“That doesn’t translate to excitement. It doesn’t translate to votes,” he said. “We engineered our operation specifically so we’d have volunteers like Will out here, reaching out to their friends and neighbors … because we know that’s a far more effective strategy than having someone whose simply knocking on doors because their paid to.”
Independent of the RNC operation, Americans for Prosperity also has workers in the field for Sullivan. With nine staffers and several volunteers, they figure they’ve hit 15,000 doors in the past two months, in Anchorage and the Mat-Su.
The Begich campaign, whose field operation is combined with the Democratic Party, says they’ve knocked on 20,000 doors just this past weekend, at least half in Southcentral Alaska.
By the way, there’s a way to keep these people away from your doorstep: Vote early. More than 6,500 Alaskans already have. Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai says the campaigns buy an updated voter list every few days now, so they have the names of everyone who has already cast a ballot. Once you’ve voted, most campaigns will strike you from their list.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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