Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It All Comes Down to Michigan ; Recognizing Its Importance, Both George W. Bush and Al Gore Are Storming the State

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It All Comes Down to Michigan ; Recognizing Its Importance, Both George W. Bush and Al Gore Are Storming the State

Article excerpt

Dave Ciampa hangs up the phone and grins broadly, then fills in the circle on his form with a No. 2 pencil. Another voter contacted. Another potential vote for George W. Bush.

At this Republican "victory center" in suburban Detroit - a large room filled with telephones and pizza - volunteers are contacting voters who have asked for absentee ballots. Their job is to locate supporters of the GOP nominee and make sure he gets their votes. On the Democratic side, unions dominate get-out-the-vote efforts - with phone banks, door-to-door leafletting, and worker-to-worker contact during lunch and at shift changes.

In a way, Michigan is turning into a general-election version of New Hampshire at primary time.

The zeal of volunteers is palpable. The state is crawling with national media. Bush and rival Al Gore have been here early and often, and almost daily, surrogates are on the stump. Michigan - often a reflection of the national vote - looks like it will be one of the decisive states.

Just two weeks before the election, the race is so tight that a recent statewide poll in the Detroit News put the margin between Bush and Mr. Gore at one vote. That represents a decline for Gore, who until recently maintained a slight edge.

"What it comes down to is who will do the best job in the ground game, who can deliver their voters," says Steve Mitchell, the Michigan pollster who conducted the Detroit News poll.

Here in affluent Oakland County, there's a little extra oomph to the volunteers' phone calls: Republicans still dominate local politics, but the county is diversifying. Democrats and independents, many of them the children of the fabled "Reagan Democrats" in working-class Macomb County next door, are moving in.

There's also now a substantial black professional population here, who largely vote Democratic. Analysts say Oakland County is on the verge of becoming the bellwether for the state - and even the nation - that Macomb County was once seen to be.

That sense of import comes through on the phone. "People are starting to care," says Mr. Ciampa, a sheriff's deputy in neighboring Wayne County. "They've been told by people this is ground zero. They actually feel, 'I'm important.' "

Wooed by Bush

The Bush campaign itself is showing Oakland County just how important it believes it is. On the night of the first presidential debate, Bush domestic policy director Steve Goldsmith came to the Farmington Hills victory center to preside over the festivities. For the third debate, former national GOP chair Haley Barbour was the honored guest.

Elsewhere, surrogates are standing in for both men. National Rifle Association head Charlton Heston has been here for Bush to woo gun-owning union voters. …

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