Georgians swarm swing states for final election push

They’re just doing it hundreds of miles away, in states such as Ohio and Florida, where their efforts have the potential to tip a Spanx-tight election.

Near Akron, Ohio, Marietta Realtor Felicity Diamond and other Georgia Republicans braved temperatures in the 30s this weekend to talk to voter Carrie Hovest.

“We’re coming from a red state,” said Diamond, whose Southern drawl was noticeably out of place in the Midwest. “We’d just love to have you in our column.”

More than 800 miles to the Southeast, Morehouse freshman John Goode was among 120 students from Atlanta’s historically black colleges working to keep Florida blue. They descended upon Jacksonville — located in a county Obama lost in 2008 by one percentage point.

“If Obama wins this county specifically, he will win Florida and he will win the election,” said Goode, an 18-year-old biology major.

He’s right in one sense: at this point, the presidential race is a game of inches. With mere hours to go before Election Day, most polls show a very close race. The outcome will hinge on which campaign is most effective in getting its supporters to the polls in a handful of swing states whose electoral votes are still in play.

For volunteers such as Diamond and Goode, the days of knocking on every door to identify supporters, or trying to persuade those who waver or are undecided, are past. Now it’s about just one thing: touching the people already identified as committed supporters and seeing that they make it to the polls.

“This is what will make the difference,” an Obama campaign organizer told the Atlanta-area college students before they boarded church buses bound for their destinations. “Not the ads, not the yard signs – it’s the one-on-one conversations.”

Some of the door-knockers are retired. Some are in school. Some are taking time off from work. In many cases, they travel on their own dime and bunk with locals who are happy to have reinforcements in this frenetic final stretch.

All project an unshakable belief of the rightness of their cause and the stakes for the country – particularly the peril if the other guy wins.

“I see (the United States) falling apart, and I see it no longer being the ‘City on a Hill,’” said Republican Linda Clary Umberger, of Dawsonville. She organized volunteers from the Atlanta area to canvass in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. “When I wake up Wednesday morning I will know I did everything I have to do, and I’ll have no regrets regardless of the outcome.”

On the other side of the aisle, Justin Giboney, an attorney for the City of Atlanta, said he’s been raising money for Obama but wanted to have a more direct impact. That’s why he, his fiance and two friends piled into their car to knock on doors in Jacksonville.

He acknowledges that early in the race, many of the president’s supporters were less engaged than they were four years ago.

“But as the campaign went on,” he said, “I think (the Obama campaign) did a good job of painting Mitt Romney — or maybe he did it to himself — as a man who doesn’t understand the middle class. And so I think people are fired up again.”

Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, and Florida, with 29, are the two most populous swing states – and thus attract quadrennial attention from the campaigns. According to NBC News and ad-buying firm CMG Delta, Ohio has seen the most spending on television ads, followed closely by Florida.

Most recent public polling shows Romney slightly ahead in Florida and Obama slightly ahead in Ohio.

Obama, who carried Ohio in 2008, is scheduled to visit the state for the fourth consecutive day Monday, with a rally in Columbus. Romney is also slated to be in Columbus, his third Ohio visit in the past four days.

Both campaigns strongly covet the Buckeye State. Without it, they would need to win almost all the smaller swing states – Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia.

Romney, in particular, will have trouble amassing the necessary 270 electoral votes without Ohio. His late play in Pennsylvania, which he visited Sunday, is an attempt to increase the number of viable combinations to get him to that magic threshold.

“While there are paths around Ohio for Romney, it is tough,” emailed Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “And no (Republican) has ever been elected without Ohio and Ohio has picked the White House winner 27 of the last 29 elections.”

The state resembles the nation as a whole in many ways, though it is somewhat whiter, denser and poorer than the national averages, according to census data.

“There’s a mix of rural, suburban and city,” said Columbus-based Republican consultant Terry Casey. “It isn’t like one media market dominates the state, so that makes it more challenging and more interesting.”

In Wooster, the heart of mostly conservative Wayne County, 13 Georgians set up camp in recent days. They stayed at the homes of local Romney supporters and spread the Gospel of Mitt wherever they could – including handing out stickers at a pizza restaurant where they ate dinner.

Diamond and Suzanne Prestwood, the retired owner of a travel company from Alpharetta, encountered snow flurries Friday afternoon as they knocked on doors in a neighborhood that bordered farmland. Many homes had Romney signs on the lawns, and nearly all the people who answered their doorbells said they either had voted Republican or would on Tuesday.

They did find one Obama supporter, whom they made no attempt to convert. “Stupid is not salvageable,” said Diamond as they walked to the next house.

Most of the Romney voters they visited were fairly chipper, but there is an air of election fatigue in a state where most television commercial breaks are dominated by attack ads and the phone rings off the hook with campaign calls.

“We have an answering machine that picks ‘em up,” said Scott Woods, 55, taking a drag from a cigarette as he stood in his driveway.

Even though he voted early for Romney, he acknowledged that it was, in a way, heartening to hear the campaign message from real people. “Georgia, wow,” he said, contemplating the women’s devotion. “That’s a long way.”

If, in many ways, Ohio is the old, industrial America, Florida is the new, post-industrial one. It’s a fast-growing mega-state full of recent immigrants and transplants from the North. It’s extraordinarily diverse, stretching from the Panhandle, which mostly resembles its Deep South neighbors, to cosmopolitan and multilingual Miami.

“Part of the reason it’s a swing state is because it’s a real reflection of the country, a reflection of national demographics,” said Democratic consultant Dave Beattie.

The state voted for Obama in 2008, but has been leaning Republican since then. For Romney, it’s a must-win, whereas for Obama it’s a bonus that would turn a nail-biter into a sure second term.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said Obama’s challenge is simple: “Democrats really need to spike actual voting among younger and minority voters” she said. “The older voters tending to be Republican will certainly turn out.”

For Goode and friends Kody McCary and Robert Martin — all of Morehouse — the trip was their second in recent weeks. On this day, they were joined by Devon Johnson, of Spelman College. Altogether, an estimated 500 Democrats trolled Jacksonville over the weekend for Obama voters.

Along the way, Goode and his buddies encountered Pastor Reggie Warfield, who told them he is shuttling voters who lack transportation to the polls.

He assured them Duval County Democrats will turn out in higher numbers than in ‘08. “People are very serious now,” he said. “We have really pushed (voting) in the city and over the pulpit.”

Most of the people the students encountered in the predominantly African-American neighborhood said they had already voted. But connecting with people was more difficult this time around, the volunteers said, because they were not visiting each resident on a block — just the ones already identified as supporters.

At many of the homes on their list, no one came to the door. “Where are the people?” Goode asked at one point, growing frustrated. “They better be voting.”

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Leslie reported from Florida; Malloy reported from Ohio.