SACRAMENTO — With the presidential race and key congressional campaigns going down to the wire, tens of thousands of California political activists on Monday flooded phone lines, went door to door and cheered at rallies meant to mobilize voters.
The Democrats who dominate the state’s elected offices barnstormed California to counter a multimillion-dollar advertising barrage by Republican George W/ Bush – a blitz that went unanswered by Al Gore.
“We expect every single one of you to e-mail, fax, phone, knock on the door of every human being you can,” Gov. Gray Davis told activists in Sacramento. “Drag them, drive them, get in a taxi with them, get them to the polls!”
Turnout is critical for the Democrats because Bush’s aggressive effort in the largest state has slashed Gore’s once-commanding lead in polls. Getting out the vote is just as crucial for Republicans, because Democrats outnumber them by 1.6 million voters.
A Field Poll released Monday showed Gore leading Bush 46 percent to 41 percent among likely voters, an edge that barely exceeded the poll’s margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Republicans said their polling showed the race between Gore and Bush a dead heat. “They may rue the day they decided not to advertise,” GOP consultant Sean Walsh said of Gore.
“It’s a lot closer than I’d like it to be, and it’s a lot closer than it needed to be,” said Garry South, the political adviser to Gov. Gray Davis. South had complained previously that Gore had not fought vigorously enough for the state.
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader drew 4 percent in the Field Poll, the same as he has in two previous Field surveys. That suggested a second problem for Gore: Nader’s supporters are sticking with him despite Democratic efforts to draw them back into the Gore fold.
The Green Party was holding its own rallies up and down the state Monday.
Republicans pressed for a come-from-behind win for their nominee.
Bush was leading a rally via satellite at several California sites, and other Republicans were stumping independently at the 11th hour.
Rev. Tony Lowden of the Calvary Christian Center said the black community shouldn’t blindly pledge its support to Gore.
“They should look at how much their communities have improved in the past eight years. If they aren’t seeing improvements, they should be voting for Bush-Cheney,” Lowden said on the Capitol steps.
“In terms of improving our communities and family values, Gore offers nothing and George Bush offers plenty,” said community activist Craig DeLuz. “Issues that are important to us aren’t important to Democrats.”
Voters were also preparing to decide a long list of other races and issues on the California ballot.
There are initiatives on school vouchers and bonds, campaign-finance reform and whether to require those convicted of drug possession to be placed in drug treatment rather than prison.
At least a half-dozen tight congressional races could determine which party controls Congress.
Republicans were trying to narrow the Democrats’ lead in the Legislature, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein was defending her seat against Republican Rep. Tom Campbell.
“I know you’ve all got on your walking shoes and I think we’re going to show that this 800-pound gorilla, California, can really deliver,” Feinstein told more than 200 labor leaders and teachers in Sacramento.
Both parties were mounting what they said were unprecedented efforts to turn out the vote.
The GOP was blanketing the state with “millions” of phone calls and had about 25,000 volunteers getting voters to the polls, said spokesman Stuart DeVeaux.
Bush’s wife, Laura, was among those who taped messages that were phoned to Republican voters, along with former Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Rep. Mary Bono.
Democrats had President Clinton, Barbra Streisand and Rev. Jesse Jackson making automated phone calls, 20,000 to 30,000 foot soldiers knocking on doors, and other volunteers making hundreds of thousands of phone calls, said party spokesman Bob Mulholland.
“We’ve got the candidates. We’ve got the issues. If we don’t win, it’s our own fault,” said Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
Davis warned against voter complacency that could come if “eastern pundits,” as he put it, begin airing projections of winners Tuesday/
That was one of many factors that made the election more volatile than anyone had expected.
Seven percent of voters remained undecided, according to Monday’s Field Poll. Elections officials expected the highest turnout in 20 years — 76 percent — but no one knew which way they’d vote.
More than a quarter of voters were casting absentee ballots, which was certain to slow disclosure of results.