By phone, ads, or in person, a frenzy to get out the vote

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / January 19, 2010

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Democrats are hoping a coordinated get-out-the-vote effort for Attorney General Martha Coakley will knock down the wildfire that has vaporized her lead in the polls over Republican state Senator Scott Brown in today’s special US Senate election.

Brown’s campaign is hoping the raw energy among his supporters is enough to overpower the state’s Democratic machinery.

For both sides, volunteers from out of state have poured into Massachusetts in the campaign’s final hours, creating a frenzy of electioneering in a contest with sky-high national ramifications.

Volunteers have made millions of telephone calls and knocked on tens of thousands of doors in advance of today’s vote, in which turnout could approach that of a regular state election, Secretary of State William F. Gal vin said yesterday.

“It’s been a very intense weekend for anyone with a TV set or a telephone,’’ Galvin said of the unprecedented onslaught of television ads, many of the attack variety. He expects turnout among the state’s 4.1 million registered voters to be in the range of 1.6 million to 2.2 million, at least double that of the Dec. 8 special primary.

Democrats traditionally hold an election-day advantage in the Bay State because of the standing army of labor union members and the networks of operatives of elected officials.

But the Brown campaign has attracted a huge influx of grass-roots volunteers in the past two weeks. His organization has also augmented its neighborhood door-knocking program by hiring a company to provide up to 70 workers per day down the stretch. And activists in other states have set up phone banks on Brown’s behalf.

Passions are high, and workers for both candidates are acutely aware of the stakes.

At Brown’s headquarters in Needham yesterday, supporters were at more than 40 phones as others waited to take a turn.

Jamie Driscoll, a Republican from Norwood, said he has spent some time there nearly every day since October. “To me, it’s critical,’’ said Driscoll, who said he is working two part-time jobs since losing his full-time sales and marketing position. “I want my country to get back in the right direction.’’

Over the weekend, Doreen Costa, a 45-year-old mother of two, came up from North Kingstown, R.I., to work at a Brown phone bank in Randolph. A self-described member of the Ocean State’s Tea Party group that opposes the health care overhaul and expanded government, Costa said she plans to return to Massachusetts today to help Brown.

“I am going to be a part of history this week,’’ she said. “This is just amazing. The excitement - I’ve never seen a campaign like this.’’

The Brown campaign, which started in October with one office, has expanded to 10, according to political director Peter Fullerton. “It’s been overwhelming,’’ he said. “People are lined up waiting to take a shift on the phones.’’

About 600 volunteers have downloaded to their smart phones applications that provide access to the addresses of voters, Fullerton said, and they will use them to knock on doors in the communities.

The Coakley campaign, meanwhile, has developed a “full-blown get-out-the-voter program’’ for today’s election, building on the successful primary day operation and utilizing thousands of volunteers, according to a top campaign aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Dorchester yesterday, Coakley supporters gathered at the big union hall of Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to work the phones and walk the neighborhoods. In one room, union members picked up canvassing packets for sections of South Boston and Dorchester.

Rich Rogers, secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, said union members were “fighting down to the wire,’’ communicating with their peers and urging a vote for Coakley, whom he called “the best candidate for working people.’’

Many of Coakley’s 60 phone banks across the state are in the offices of unions supporting her.

Across the lobby in the IBEW’s big hall, Alieu Sheriff, 64, a paralegal from Chelsea, had just completed three hours of door-knocking in Jamaica Plain and was awaiting his next assignment.

“The issues at stake are so important that they cannot be left in the hands of a bankrupt political party,’’ he said of the GOP. The fact that it is the seat held for nearly five decades by Edward M. Kennedy made it doubly important “to carry on the dream,’’ Sheriff said.

Veteran Democratic operative Nick Clemons, who directed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 win in the New Hampshire presidential primary, arrived from Portsmouth on Thursday to help out; yesterday, he was helping coordinate the street canvassing and phone calling at the IBEW. He said elected Democratic officials in Boston have stepped up efforts for Coakley in recent days, “really pushing their networks’’ to improve her margin in the city.

“The call went out, and everybody came in,’’ he said.

A group of seven young volunteers from Washington joined local activists receiving instructions for door knocking in the Fenway neighborhood.

Alex Okrent, a top Obama operative in several states in 2008 and a veteran of Obama’s 2004 Illinois Senate campaign, was helping out.

Asked why he came to Boston in the closing days of the campaign, Okrent, a Washington consultant, said: “I’d like to see his agenda continue, and not get blocked by a special election in Massachusetts.’’

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report.