Parties Move Troops around Political Game Board; Manpower, Money in Decided States Shifted to Battlegrounds

Article excerpt

Byline: Christina Bellantoni, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

With Maryland and the District solidly in Sen. John Kerry's camp and Virginia leaning toward President Bush, political leaders in the region are exporting expertise, money and manpower to battlegrounds like neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania in hopes of making a difference on Nov. 2.

"We have folks every weekend and every day coming in from the surrounding states," said Don Morabito, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. "The surrounding states are pretty well decided, and they've come in because they think their states are either solid-Kerry or solid-Bush and they want to work here."

Virginia, with its 13 electoral votes, has not sent a Democrat to the White House since 1964. The District, with three electoral votes, has never voted Republican. And in Maryland, which has 10 electoral votes, Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

Political heavyweights from each area also have taken their campaigns out of state.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican and friend of the president, will be going to battleground states to drum up support for Mr. Bush, his aides said. Mr. Ehrlich said this summer that the president should not spend time or money in Maryland because it is not competitive.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a black Republican, has been working with the Republican National Committee in several states to help Mr. Bush with outreach to blacks. Mr. Steele has been to Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, all swing states.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, is one of Mr. Kerry's biggest supporters. He has taken the Kerry campaign message to rural Virginia, a traditionally Republican area he secured to win his own election in 2001. Mr. Warner also has stumped for Mr. Kerry in Missouri, a battleground state.

Mr. Warner appeared on WTOP Radio's "Ask the Governor" program on Sept. 27 and said it was still possible for Mr. Kerry to win Virginia.

"I've never seen the kind of energy in Virginia that's taking place this year," he said. "This is going to be a very, very competitive campaign. ... Virginia is going to be uphill, but, yes, I think John Kerry can still win Virginia."

But yesterday, Mr. Kerry's campaign said it will send two-thirds of its Virginia staff to states the presidential candidate believes are more winnable for him and that are critical to his chances of being elected.

The Associated Press reported that Virginia campaign spokesman Jonathan Beeton said about 20 Kerry staffers from offices around Virginia will leave immediately, many of them for battleground states. Mr. Beeton said that would leave about 10 full-time Kerry campaign workers in Virginia.

Mr. Kerry had stationed about 30 Democratic activists and political professionals across Virginia - a campaign effort no Democrat has matched in the state in years. Four years ago, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore had no paid staff in Virginia, did not make any campaign stops in the state, and purchased no TV advertising time.

Grass-roots volunteers from the region help parties in battlegrounds by phone banking, knocking on doors and registering voters.

Jeffrey Norman, a Northwest resident and member-elect of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, is one of those volunteers.

Mr. Norman, 58, is retired and has the time and money to spend 10 days campaigning for Mr. Kerry in West Virginia.

"I'm going to do whatever they need me to do," he said. …