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Winning an Election One Voter at a Time

AFTER a saturation media campaign that quickly spent upwards of $1.6 million, the campaign on the ground here geared up over the weekend to win votes the old-fashioned way - one voter at a time.

"Regardless of what the polls say, this one could be won on the ground," said Alex Hoffinger, a volunteer for candidate Bill Clinton.

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Volunteer staffs who have worked in downtown store-front offices for weeks stepped up the pace this weekend to prepare for bus loads of reinforcements. Much of the campaign spade work - preparing mailings and voter lists, canvassing, leafleting, identifying and targeting voters - has been done. The final hours of the campaign on the ground are aimed at getting out the vote and maintaining visibility.

For Buchanan volunteer Jack Algeo, this meant tossing campaign yard signs into the back of his red pickup truck and heading toward the airport. President George Bush was due to arrive at Boire field in Nashua Saturday, and the Pat Buchanan signs along the presidential motorcade route that had been torn down or stapled over with Bush signs during the night had to be replaced. This was tough work; he needed a crowbar to drive stakes into eight inches of frozen ground.

He scoffed at the thought of Bush volunteers doing this work: "They don't have anyone below the rank of major," said Mr. Algeo, who owns his own machine shop. "There are no foot soldiers in their army."

Many of Buchanan's local volunteers are affiliated with right-to-life, taxpayer, or gun-control groups, says Nashua campaign coordinator Kim Fitzgerald.

Seven bus loads of Clinton volunteers swelled the crowd of 700 at a weekend rally in a local gymnasium. The crown jewel of volunteers were the "Arkansas Travelers," who were introduced to the rally as people "from all over Arkansas who began calling us to ask what they could do to help."

Many in driver Larry Crane's van work in the Arkansas state government, but emphasized that they were here "on their own time, and on their own dime."

"Everybody in our group knows Bill Clinton," says Mr. Crane, who works for the Arkansas Public Service Commission. "He's honest, true, hard-working, he cares very deeply."

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It is a message volunteers took to Nashua streets, along with 20,000 video cassettes to distribute to "targeted undecided Democrats and independents."

On Nashua's Palm Street, these marching orders were not easy to follow. Most of the "targeted" voters were not home, and videos were left under mail boxes with junk mail. A young Canadian worker admitted he cannot vote, but accepted a video from Del Boyette, director of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, and promised to share it with friends who do vote. "But where do I return it?" he asked.

Sen. Bob Kerrey's campaign found sleeping space on floors and couches for 45 volunteers bused from colleges and congressional offices in Washington. Enthusiastic volunteers stood alongside a dimly lit street in a driving sleet storm to flag down cars for a Kerrey rally Saturday night.

Along with traditional student volunteers or recent graduates on protracted job searches, the Nashua campaigns were also fueled by the unemployed. Harkin volunteer Mel Zink, who picketed outside the Nashua Mall during the Bush visit, has been unemployed for three years. He fondly recalled the days of double time and a half as an union autoworker that prompted him to buy a house he can no longer afford. "For me, a Harkin victory is a matter of survival," he said.

A Bush volunteer walked by him with an armfull of posters. "You dropped one!" Mr. Zink calls out. The volunteer stops, looks around, and frowns before proceeding. "We just like to confuse 'em. Keep 'em going around in circles," he chuckles.

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