Parties Gear Up Ground Game Ahead of Election Day

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Local Democrats and Republicans say they are confident their efforts on the ground will help deliver victory for their respective party’s presidential candidate.

As the campaigns enter the critical weekend before Election Day, volunteers are canvassing om foot, by phone, text and email to urge their voters to vote during the final three days of early voting, drop their absentee ballots off at election boards before Nov. 3 or vote at their precinct Tuesday.

The Ohio campaign of Democrat Joe Biden, which has relied on online and socially distanced events because of the coronavirus pandemic, kicked off the final weekend of early voting with a virtual block party featuring actress Alfre Woodard.

Meanwhile, local Republicans hope today’s appearance by Ivanka Trump in Canfield will boost enthusiasm for her father, President Donald Trump.

Months ago Ohio was considered solidly in the Trump column after his eight-percentage-point victory in 2016. But today Ohio is hotly contested. Current polls shows Trump and Biden running neck and neck. On Friday, Quinnipiac poll gave Biden a five-point lead.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Elections Project, 54,910 voters already have cast ballots in Mahoning County, nearly half of the 117,636 of the total county residents who cast ballots in 2016. In Columbiana County, 19,056 voters have cast ballots, compared with the total 47,205 who voted four years ago. In Trumbull County, 26,448 voters have voted already, compared with the 97,700 who voted in the last presidential election.

Capri Cafaro, executive-in-residence at the American University School of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and former Ohio Senate minority leader, expects Trump to win Ohio again, as he did in 2016. “President Trump still has a great deal of enthusiasm and loyalty in Ohio that is going to be hard to totally overcome,” she observed.

Trump’s 2016 victory in the state resulted in part from stronger than expected support from the heavily Democratic Mahoning Valley. He won Trumbull County and narrowly lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton in Mahoning County.

Biden will win the state only if he does “exceedingly well” in Trumbull and Mahoning counties as well as areas such as Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties, Cafaro said.

This weekend, the campaigns are continuing to conduct phone banking and literature drops, with a focus on identifying those who haven’t already voted in person or returned their mail-in absentee ballots.

“It’s a little bit different now because of the pandemic,” Cafaro acknowledged. Where normally there would be more door-to-door campaigning, because of the pandemic, there’s a greater reliance on phone banking and texting, and on making sure any absentee ballots still out get returned by Election Day.

Democrats appear to be outpacing Republicans on absentee and early voting, making Republican’s turnout operation much more important for them, Cafaro said.

People have been coming in and out of the Trumbull County Democratic Party’s headquarters nonstop since June, said Kathy DiCristofaro, vice-chairwoman.

“I haven’t seen this much activity since 2008,” she remarked. “We have probably double the volunteers, half of whom are all new people that I’ve never seen.” She also is encouraged by the age of ranges of the volunteers, from young people to those in their 80s.

So far, Trumbull Democrats have made about 16,000 literature drops and hopes to hit 20,000 by Sunday, she reported. In addition, the party conducted a postcard campaign and voter registration initiative, and held Zoom meetings to engage voters and volunteers. She acknowledged some of the in-person engagement has slowed because the county moved back into Red status for coronavirus.

Heading toward Election Day, “We’re not taking our foot off the gas pedal,” she said.

Republicans are no less determined to turn out their voters.

Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and GOP state parties in several states, has been on the ground in Ohio for well over a year. The campaign has 177 staff, trained thousands of volunteers, and made more than 13 million voter contacts in the state.

“That entire effort was geared toward the largest grassroots operation in Ohio history,” said Dan Lusheck, Ohio press secretary for Trump Victory. “That operation is what’s going to turn out the votes that we need to win on Election Day.”

The Trump campaign and volunteers have knocked on 50,000 doors in Mahoning County.

“That’s definitely an area where we know we have an advantage over what the Democrats are doing. They didn’t get into door knocking until relatively recently,” said Tex Fischer of the Mahoning GOP. “We’ve had people out knocking since last year. That’s an area we’re really confident that’s going to produce results for us.”

Mahoning Republicans haven’t run into as much resistance to its in-person outreach as some might expect, Fischer said. “That could just be a reflection of our area,” he said.

Over the next few days, the Trump campaign’s focus will be on talking to voters and making sure the ones who received absentee ballots turn them in and encourage voters to cast ballots early at county boards of elections, Lusheck said.

“On Election Day, we’re going to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure there’s a fair and safe election in Ohio and drive folks to the polls,” he added.

The presidential campaign also is being fought over the airwaves, although that battle has been largely one-sided.

While the Trump campaign just recently began airing a flight of commercials to run though Election Day, the Biden campaign has been on the air since July, reported Jack Grdic, sales manager at WFMJ-TV and WBCB. Through Tuesday, political adds overall will outnumber other commercials five to one, he said.

Candidate spending this year is about half what it was four years ago, Grdic noted. He attributed that in part to Ohio only recently emerging as a competitive state. Had Ohio been seen as in play earlier, local viewers “would have seen a much higher level of activity,” he said.

Local fundraisers that normally would have generated advertising dollars could not take place because of the pandemic, he said.

Surrogate visits such as Ivanka Trump’s today and Donald Trump Jr.’s rally in Youngstown last Monday help drive enthusiasm, Lusheck said.

“We have a number of surrogates who have been visiting Ohio and that energizes our voters, our supporters and our volunteers, and gives them the energy they’re going to need to work essentially nonstop until the polls close,” he remarked.

Trumbull Democrati DiCristofaro dismissed the notion that the Valley is being ignored because of the lack of attention from high-level surrogates. High-level campaign staff checks with her three to four times daily to see if they need anything, and any requests are fulfilled within 24 hours.

“We’re being respectful to keeping the community safe so we’re not doing in-person [events],” she said. As people gather at these rallies or are on street corners waiving flags, her people are in the neighborhoods engaging voters, which is more important.

“Obviously the Biden campaign has taken a very different route to campaigning than our side but I definitely think there is a clear enthusiasm gap,” Fischer responded.

He said people attending events are encouraged to abide by coronavirus guidelines. Hand sanitizers are available and people are required to wear masks when entering such events.

Those masks are soon taken off once inside, if the Trump Jr. event is any guide. Fewer than one in 10 attendees were observed keeping their masks on during the event.

“People make their own judgment call for themselves,” Fischer said.

Although Cafaro expects Trump to win Ohio, a Biden victory isn’t improbable, she said. The Democrat is running a much better campaign in Ohio and the Midwest than Clinton did four years ago, with ads that speak to issues such as jobs and addressing the pandemic.

“You’re actually seeing substance in Joe Biden ads … as opposed to being just anti-Donald Trump,” she said. “He’s presenting a clear alternative.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.