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In California midterm election's tight races, voter turnout is key

Voter turnout will be especially important for Democrats in the midterm elections. The higher the overall turnout, the more likely Democrats will benefit. Both parties are appealing energetically to independents and the undecided.

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Although the campaign has 90 field offices with paid professional staff and thousands of volunteers who call voters and craft their message to whoever answers the phone, “California is very hard to navigate because of its size,” Mr. Stutzman says. “We’re primarily focused on GOP turnout but also identifying who the independents are to make sure they know what our message is, too.”

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The GOP camp, meanwhile, has been energized by an Oct. 17-18 internal poll taken by The Tarrance Group of Alexandria, Va., showing the race for governor at “a pure dead heat” with 46 percent of California voters voting for Whitman and 46 percent for Brown. This contrasts with an Oct. 15 Rasmussen Poll which put Brown ahead, 50 to 44 percent.

Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Democratic candidate Jerry Brown, says the Tarrance Group poll is definitely an “outlier,” meaning it disagrees so completely with several other polls that it needs to be thrown out.

“Every independent poll for the past week shows us with a five point lead or higher,” says Mr. Clifford. On Thursday, the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-partisan think tank, released its own poll showing Mr. Brown leading Ms. Whitman by 8 points, 44 percent to 36 percent, with 16 percent undecided.

Poll as motivator

But analysts say Republicans are using the Tarrance Group poll as further evidence for their voters that the race is so close that every single vote is needed.

“This race will go down to the wire, and it’s important that California voters know the truth about how close this race is,” Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, which released the poll, said in a statement.

Stutzman says the Whitman campaign has spent a lot of money on “professional staff that know how to target and run ground operations.” Whitman has spent, at last count, $141 million of her own money on her campaign. Outgunned, the Brown forces have labor unions which are spending money on his behalf.

“I think the biggest question is whether the outsourcing of Brown’s get-out-the-vote campaign – both to labor and to the party – will have any effect,” says Thad Kousser, associate professor of political science at University of California, San Diego.

One key this year, say experts, is younger voters. Therefore the good news, say Mr. Dash and other analysts, is the presence of Prop. 19 – the initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use – on the ballot.

As for actually making it to the polls on election day, Potter says absolutely nothing will stop most seniors. “This is the most vital election I’ve ever voted in,” he declares, saying he has voted in every election since 1960. “Many of my friends are voting absentee because they say, ‘Jeez, I could be out sick that day or it might be raining, so I want to make sure my vote counts.’ ”

Not so for Mandore Oviedo, a 40-something filmmaker. When asked what could keep her from getting out and voting, she answers, “An all-day job … something which I haven’t had in more than eight months.”