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Republicans strive to top Democrats in getting voters to polls

By Sue Kirchhoff and Anne E. Kornblut

November 2, 2002, WASHINGTON - As Election Day approaches, Republicans' biggest concern is not the lackluster economy or even Iraq: It is how many of their supporters go to the polls.

In a campaign year characterized by negative campaigns, last-minute candidates, and what voters describe as a confusing muddle of issues, turnout is expected to be low and the victor will probably be the party that does the better job of getting out the vote. In the past several elections, even Republicans say it is the Democrats who have done that, helped by the organizing skill of the AFL-CIO, which has managed to increase turnout from union households by nearly 8 million since 1992.

The White House is determined to blunt the Democrats' union advantage this time around with a concentrated get-out-the-vote drive in the final three days of the campaign. The so-called ''72-hour strategy'' is inspired by the final hours of the 2000 election, during which Republican strategists believe Democrats did a better job of getting party faithful to the polls, and it is modeled largely on union organizers' state-by-state efforts to fire up voters who would otherwise stay home.

''In the past, a lot of campaigns were guilty of coasting into Election Day, saying, `Hey, there's nothing more we can do,''' said Rob Gray, a Republican strategist in Boston who served on the White House-appointed 72-hour task force. ''That attitude has completely changed.''


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