Officials with President Bush’s re-election campaign believe the best strategy for victory in Arizona is to get an early jump on creating a statewide organization that reaches out to individual voters.
But for those working to get John Kerry elected in Arizona, the campaign’s peak moments are more important than when it starts. They are counting on undecided Arizona voters to delay their choice until after this summer’s national conventions.
Bush’s camp appears to have a clear edge in Arizona if November’s outcome is decided in the trenches of grass-roots campaigning — where volunteers personally lobby the uncommitted and push every button to get loyal partisans to the polls.
Humming along for months, the Bush campaign quietly opened a Phoenix headquarters in March and has used the Republican Party apparatus to build a force of up to 20,000 volunteers.
Arizona campaign director Lisa James of Scottsdale said the campaign’s first stage has focused mostly on organizing state, county and even party precinct teams to deliver a united push for Bush. But six full-time staff members already have been overseeing nightly phone banking for weeks and identifying key voting groups to target in the coming months.
"We are absolutely committed to touching more voters, to turn out more voters on Election Day, and spreading the president’s message," said James, a longtime Bush ally who was hired by the campaign in December.
In contrast, the campaign of Sen. John Kerry is still developing its structure and strategy for Arizona. As of last week, there was a single fulltime staff member working out of a Phoenix office rented from the state Democratic Party. Kerry has relied primarily on television ads, two personal visits and the efforts of state Democratic officials to keep his image before voters.
Kerry’s state director, Doug Wilson, said the Bush campaign’s earlier start on the general election will have no bearing on what happens in November. Incumbent presidents always get their state campaigns in place before the challenger, Wilson said, because they don’t have to win a series of primaries first.
But the real action takes place after the national party conventions and the Kerry campaign will be ready in Arizona, Wilson said.
"There will more money and resources in the state than there ever has been," he said. "The key to our campaign is there’s an understanding, there’s a willingness and an interest to hear the Democratic message by people who might not have been willing to hear that message before."
A Tucson native, Wilson has been in politics most of his life and now works for a political strategy firm in Washington, D.C. He’s quite familiar with campaigning in Arizona, managing former President Bill Clinton’s victory here in 1996. Wilson said he’s back this year to show Clinton’s win wasn’t a fluke and the political climate of Arizona has permanently shifted to benefit Democrats.
But Wilson won’t be in Arizona full time until after the Democrat convention in Boston at the end of July. Meanwhile, the campaign continues to depend heavily on the state party and Ana Ma, a employee of the Democratic National Coordinating Committee, to organize events and attract publicity. Just last week, a Valley barbecue to celebrate the selection Sen. John Edwards as Kerry’s running mate took place in a parking lot at the state party headquarters.
"One of the huge differences in Arizona Democrat politics from when I was there is the presence of (state party chairman) Jim Pederson," Wilson said. "This is a man who has committed time, money and effort to building what I think has become one of the most modern and effective state parties in the country. He has had an infrastructure in place that has been easy to build upon."
Kerry officials said the campaign is pulling together its own volunteer committees. Susan Castner, 49, of Scottsdale has been organizing one group called Women for Kerry. Castner said she never registered to vote until 1991, when she decided to help Clinton defeat Bush’s father in that presidential election.
An Arizona resident for four years, Castner said she doesn’t believe the Bush campaign has an upper hand.
"Committees don’t win elections, voters do and we are going to be out there getting every single one of Senator Kerry’s supporters to the polls," she said.
But Bush’s supporters are just as enthusiastic. Stephanie Papp, 17, of Paradise Valley volunteers at least three days a week at the Bush campaign headquarters.
"I was disappointed" about not being old enough to vote in this election, Papp said. "That’s why I’m pushing so hard to make sure other people make wise decisions and informed decisions."
Arizona campaign director:
State headquarters: 4647 N. 32nd St., Suite 125B, Phoenix
Upcoming event: National Party for the President, Thursday. Supporters around the country will host house parties and take part in a telephone conference call with first lady Laura Bush.
Arizona campaign director:
State headquarters: 2910 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Contact information: (602) 298-4200, www.johnkerry.com
Upcoming event: House Party with John Edwards, July 29 Supporters around the country will host parties to watch Sen. John Edwards accept the Democratic nomination for vice president. Edwards will lead a telephone conference call to the parties.