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Senate GOP Plots Turnout Program

Senate Republicans are on track to raise more than $1 million to finance the deployment of staffers and lobbyists to at least six states hosting contests that will determine the chamber’s majority in the 109th Congress.

Senate GOP leaders are working closely with their allies on K Street to help raise money and recruit volunteers for the program targeting states where President Bush is expected to win handily, meaning the president’s re-election effort and the Republican National Committee are unlikely to do much in terms of devoting financial or ground-troop resources.

The goal is to recruit 750 volunteers and put them on the ground in Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Washington state to augment existing GOP get-out-the-vote operations in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 elections. The program also will help boost GOP House candidates in those states.

“What I want to do to the extent possible is to try to build an effort to, at least in the last couple of weeks, maximize turnout,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.), who is overseeing the program. “Obviously, those states are doing some. We just want to leverage, to bring it up to the next level.”

Republican leaders have named the project “Special Teams” and modeled it after the successful Strategic Task Force to Organize and Mobilize People introduced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in the 2002 election cycle to help bolster House Republican candidates’ field operations.

The Republicans’ original goal this year was to raise a combined $750,000 for the venture, but Santorum and others involved in the planning said that figure will likely be surpassed. Initial goals were to raise $250,000 directly from Senators, $400,000 from lobbyist allies and draw the remaining $100,000 from House Members. But Senators quickly embraced the idea and have doubled their contributions, causing organizers to rethink their original plan.

Additional money beyond the original $750,000 goal might allow Republicans to expand the scope of the program to place volunteers in Colorado and North Carolina, two more states with highly competitive contests — and also states that may be less competitive in the presidential battle as Nov. 2 draws closer.

“I think this is enough to help us pick up a couple of seats,” predicted Cleta Mitchell, a Republican campaign finance attorney with Foley & Lardner. “These are states that could not anticipate getting a huge influx of volunteers.”

Mitchell, along with Dan Meyer of the Duberstein Group and Jeff Munk of Hogan & Hartson, are organizing the effort for Senate Republicans on K Street. Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) and Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.) are also involved in helping organize the effort.

“Our Conference has responded tremendously well and K Street has as well,” said Smith, who serves as a GOP liaison to the lobbying community.

Special Teams is being set up as a joint fundraising committee between the NRSC and state party committees, and individuals who donate the maximum amount allowed under federal election law are told they will be invited to a private reception with Senate Republican leaders and newly elected GOP Senators in December.

Political action committees are being urged to donate $45,000 to the effort, while individuals are being told they may be able to chip in up to $57,500. In addition to asking every Republican Member of Congress to “help as generously as possible from your own campaign funds,” Senators and Representatives with leadership PACs are being coaxed to give $30,000 to the program.

“Recently, John Kerry’s presidential campaign transferred over $3 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which will no doubt go directly to aggressive GOTV efforts against our candidates,” Santorum and Allen warned in an Aug. 26 letter to colleagues. In an interview, Santorum further stressed this point by saying these volunteers will be needed to counter the Democratic Party’s well-oiled get-out-the-vote effort.

While the bulk of volunteer field staffers will be D.C.-based lobbyists and aides on Capitol Hill, Senators representing states adjoining these battlegrounds are being asked to urge their supporters to cross borders to lend a hand.

“We are encouraging Members who do not come from states that are targets for either the president or the Senate to send volunteers,” Santorum said.

Smith pegged the expected turnout of help at “at least a half dozen [aides or supporters] per office that want to help.”

The money will be used to transport, feed and house the unpaid volunteers.

Volunteers are being asked to spend at least four days in the state and are encouraged to stay up to two weeks.

“I feel very confident we will be able to do this program as designed,” he said.

So far, Special Teams organizers have named five of the six coordinators who will oversee the day-to-day state operations.

Matt Hill, a legislative assistant for Smith, will be in Alaska; Charlotte Montiel, policy assistant for the Senate Republican Steering Committee, will oversee Louisiana; Gayle Osterberg, communications director for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will be in Oklahoma; Elizabeth Keys, senior communications adviser for the Senate Republican Conference, will oversee the effort in South Dakota; and Mike Liptak, legislative correspondent for Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.), will be in charge of Washington state. Republican aides on Capitol Hill will be required to take vacation or unpaid leave from their government jobs.

If Smith’s estimates are accurate, the GOP could add a couple hundred foot soldiers to the get-out-the-vote effort, which may prove critical in some races. Republicans credit the Democratic GOTV effort in South Dakota with the lone loss they suffered in a battleground race in 2002, when Sen. Tim Johnson (D) edged out former Rep. John Thune (R).

Thune is running again this year in the Senate’s marquee campaign against Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D), and the same team that ran Johnson’s effort are at the helm of Daschle’s operation.

That Democratic effort was targeted tightly enough that every undecided voter in one section of the state received a personal contact — either an in-person, front-door greeting or a telephone call — in the final weekend of the campaign from Johnson, Daschle or someone from either of their families.

Smith said volunteers would be concentrated where they can make the most impact.

“I think there will be a distribution based on need and likelihood of positive result,” he said.

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