Janesville47.3°

Republicans: Local office 'instrumental' to effort

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Kayla Bunge
October 20, 2008
— Cindy Wallisch balanced on the edge of a brown, metal folding chair at the end of a long table in the spacious Republican Party headquarters at 1701 Riverside Drive.

She asked a Milton woman six "really quick" questions about her political leanings—for whom she planned to vote, how strong her support for that candidate is and how she usually votes—following closely the scripted survey in front of her. She carefully marked the woman's answers on paper.


"More people are talking tonight," she said to a Janesville Gazette reporter during a recent visit to the local campaign office.


Wallisch, 49, of Janesville is among hundreds of volunteers across the state who are spending several hours each week making phone calls and going door-to-door in their communities, talking to voters about Sen. John McCain.


"The real groundwork is done out of these (local campaign) offices," said Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. "We've got folks out there making voter contact, making phone calls, passing out literature, identifying supporters. All of the groundwork … happens out of these offices."


The McCain campaign is "very active" in Wisconsin with 18 regional "victory centers" and dozens more local party headquarters, not only in areas that are Republican strongholds but also in areas that are staunchly Democratic, he said. And the volunteers who week after week spread the word about McCain to voters are "instrumental" to the success of the campaign in a battleground state such as Wisconsin, he said.


In its final weeks before Election Day, the campaign is targeting supporters, especially those voters who are sporadic in getting to the polls, and trying to "lock in" their votes, Jefferson said.


"We're making calls to voters, and at the end we're going back to those identified as supporters, those who perhaps are low propensity voters, those who perhaps would be with us if they went to the polls," he said.


Jefferson said the Republican campaign is giving people the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot, letting them know where their polling place is located and even providing transportation to the polls.


Across the room from her mother, Jensen Wallisch stared down at a small, round table covered in surveys, call sheets and scrap paper.


She tapped her toe against the bottom rung of the metal folding chair, waiting for a Milton man to answer the phone and hear six "really quick" questions.


When he declined, she smirked, marking his response on paper and dialing the next phone number on the list.


Jensen, 17, will be eligible to vote Oct. 26, nine days before the election. She told a Gazette reporter that rejection is common but no reason to get discouraged.


"Tonight's been good," she said. "I've given out more surveys tonight than last week."


Jefferson said the volunteers' personal contact with voters is perhaps the most important asset the campaign has in its portfolio.


"It certainly is valuable for a neighbor to call a neighbor," he said. "That community connection adds credibility to the overarching themes and messages of the campaign. All the TV ads in the world don't necessarily get people out to the polls, but talking to a neighbor provides them that motivation."


Jensen—joined that evening by her friend, Benedict Jud, 17, of Germany—had called more than 100 voters in just a couple hours. Many phone numbers were disconnected. Lots of people weren't interested in answering her questions. A handful abruptly ended the phone call.


The best calls, of course, were those that resulted in a completed six-question survey and a promise to vote for McCain, she said.


"Yay," Jensen quietly cheered so as not to interrupt Benedict as he was wrapping up an unanswered phone call.


"I'm jealous," he said.


Benedict dialed the next phone number on the list, and a Milton woman answered. He muddled through the survey questions, his German accent causing him to trip on the name of her street when he confirmed her address.


With Jensen proudly smiling next to him, Benedict hung up the phone, pumping his right fist into the air.


"My first one!" he cheered. "Yay!"



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