McCain Hiring Paid Canvassers in Florida
By Alec MacGillis
Republicans worried about John McCain's prospects have wondered how his campaign has been spending its not-insignificant pile of money, given that McCain is being heavily outspent on the air in swing states and has invested far less in field offices and organizers than has Barack Obama. Well, here's one place at least some money is going: In Florida, McCain is now offering to pay people to do door-to-door canvassing for the campaign.
An e-mail went out over the weekend from the Republican Party in Hillsborough County, which encompasses the vote-rich Tampa area, inviting supporters to go door-to-door for the campaign for $12 per hour. "Work as many shifts per week as you want," it said. "No experience necessary, but a strong desire to make a difference and a strong work ethic are important. So is reliable transportation."
McCain's reliance on paid canvassers is another indication of the advantage Obama holds going into the final weeks of the campaign, thanks to his formidable ground organization. In Florida alone, the Obama campaign has 56 field offices, more than 100 field organizers and the free labor of 150,000 volunteers, who have been doing all of the campaign's canvassing in the state.
The Obama campaign is so confident of its Florida effort that it has moved its two top national field generals, Steve Hildebrand and Paul Tewes, to the Sunshine State, so they can be closer to the action there.
The Obama volunteers in the state range from those who have turned their life over to the campaign for the final push to those like Valerie Chambers, who are doing only what they can squeeze in. Chambers is busy during the week running a child care business from her Orlando home, but finds time every weekend to make several hours worth of calls using the campaign's "Neighbor to Neighbor" computer program, which gives volunteers lists of voters in their own town or city to call.
She will host a debate watching party at her home on Wednesday. "I went onto the Web site to see what was going on, and looked at what was best available for me," she said. "This is a movement -- it's like a movement of everyone just trying to get involved."
Brian Lothrop, who has been hired by the Republican Party to oversee the canvassing efforts in one quadrant of Hillsborough County, said the party was seeking to hire about 30 canvassers for each of the county's four quadrants and that he'd already hired 15-20 after the e-mail went out to local Republican clubs and Young Republicans. He said it was not unusual for the party to hire canvassers in the final weeks of a campaign. The party has had volunteers doing "precinct walks" over the past few weeks to distribute campaign door hangers, he said, with nearly 20 turning out on Saturday to walk one precinct in his area.
But the campaign decided that it made more sense to pay canvassers for the task of making sure voters who want absentee ballots obtain them and send them in. That work entails four-hour shifts, instead of the two hour shifts that volunteers commit to, and closely following state rules on absentee ballots, he said. The party decided that was better entrusted to paid workers with that project.
"The compensation helps to make sure they're going to be there for a full four hour shift and able to handle the accountability measures we have, measuring the effectiveness of our effort," Lothrop said. "Those are the reasons we know that we're going to have to shift to a paid effort."
The situation in Florida is something of the reverse of what occurred in 2004, when Democrats nationally relied heavily on paid canvassers hired by America Coming Together and Republicans relied heavily on the volunteer network assembled under Karl Rove's guidance. ACT was credited with helping win several key states for Kerry. But those involved in the effort knew it wasn't the same as having volunteers motivated simply by political enthusiasm. While the group tried to match canvassers to neighborhoods, they often did not make the pitch well because they were not from the areas.
Robert Kraig, who was part of ACT as the then-Wisconsin political director for the Service Employees International Union, recalled watching a racially diverse group of paid canvassers in a white-ethnic suburb of Milwaukee and feeling that "they just weren't clicking." "They appeared like outsiders. Even though some of them were skilled, and some conversations went fine, I felt that it wasn't what it could be," he said.
Returning, the canvassers passed a storefront with a Bush office. Inside, Kraig said, were 30 "obviously local" volunteers making phone calls. "They were from that community, they weren't paid, and it occurred to me that those were probably a lot more effective conversations," he said. "It made my heart sink."
Posted at 4:35 PM ET on Oct 13, 2008
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