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Vote drives in high gear

In a presidential race whose outcome is expected to hang on turnout at the polls, an army of interest groups is pumping at least $350 million into get-out-the-vote campaigns that are rewriting the tactics of elections.

The efforts are part of the most expensive voter-drive ground war in history. It includes the major parties and their allies, the independent but partisan groups known as 527s, whose attack ads have played a big role in both President Bush's and Sen. John Kerry's campaigns. And for the first time in a national campaign, it includes hundreds of civic organizations and deep-pocketed business interests.

These groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and coalitions of charities, are using millions of dollars from donors that the groups are not required to identify. And though the groups are nonpartisan, some emphasize issues identified with one candidate or the other.

The efforts include door-to-door drives, mass e-mailings and telephone campaigns aimed at select groups of voters. And the onslaught has been heaviest in the states that are still up for grabs.

Many of these tactics were used in 2000, but the scale and aggressiveness of this year's ground war has far surpassed even the expectations of the presidential campaigns.

The nonpartisan groups and the 527s alone are spending at least $350 million this year to increase the turnout, which could exceed 121 million. That spending is several times what it was four years ago, when 105 million votes were cast, according to those who are raising the money.

"How much money has been pumped into this, we don't have any idea," said Kent Cooper, co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine.com, which tracks political spending.