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Voter turnout to decide candidates’ fate

Turnout is the key to a blowout, said a Barack Obama volunteer to another at the campaign office in St Louis. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri reports.

world Updated: Oct 31, 2008 00:13 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Turnout is the key to a blowout, said a Barack Obama volunteer to another at the campaign office in St Louis.

The heartland state of Missouri is on the fence in this US presidential election.

And the victor is likely to be the candidate who can mobilise his troops better than the other. If so, it’s advantage Obama.

David Robertson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St Louis, explains, “The suburbs of St Louis and Kansas City will be decisive. If they swing Obama, he will win a majority of voters in the state.” The support for the Democratic candidate, Obama, is evident in suburban St Louis.

Cars are covered with his bumper stickers. His volunteers can be seen canvassing, even though the deadline for voter registration is long past. Their goal: bring out the vote.

Jo Mannies, a journalist covering the election for the local St Louis-Post Dispatch, says turnout is everything.

“In both percentage and absolute numbers it matters. A 57-58 per cent city turnout in Obama’s favour could surmount the rural edge that John McCain has. He could do it if the numbers are energised enough.”

The Obama organisation puts the Republican candidate’s in the shade. Mannies says the former has about 2000 volunteers, 100 full-time staff and is outspending McCain two-to-one in television.

“McCain’s folks are saying how many they have, but we believe he only has 15 paid workers. He has about 10 to 15 campaign offices compared to Obama’s 40.” The energy is all on Obama’s side: two-thirds of his volunteers have never stirred themselves on behalf of any candidate before.

Veteran election workers says Obama has inspired unheard of zeal in his supporters. According to Joan Suarez, interim director of the Progressive Voters Coalition, “Registration is up tremendously across the state. St Louis has seen so much that the administrative process is struggling to keep up.” She believes it surpasses anything she has seen in her seven decades. “I see more involvement. More door knocking. Absentee balloting is up. This is outside the norm for Missouri.” As important: the formidable Republican machine is faltering. “Given the present structure of the situation, the Republican turnout is going to be down from 2004 when Bush won by a seven per cent margin. I think the Republicans will come up short this time,” says Robertson. He points to early reports that evangelical rural strongholds like Bollinger County have seen registration fall by nine per cent.

The Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, helped bring the Republican cause to life but the financial crisis killed off whatever momentum she provided. In any case, small-town America liked Palin, suburban America was appalled.

St Louis suburbanite and retired executive Tom McDermott explained, “Actuary reports calculate that McCain has a one in six chance of dying in the next four years. One in six is a bullet in a revolver chamber. He’s playing Russian Roulette with the future of the country.”