Last days on the trail

Robert Kahne and Thomas Roberts know the poll numbers: Steve Beshear has a commanding double-digit lead over Gov. Ernie Fletcher in the SurveyUSA poll for tomorrow’s gubernatorial election.

But in the final 72 hours of a campaign, each party must make contacts and mobilize registered voters so that the decisive poll — Election Night results — swings its way, said Roberts, president of UK College Republicans, and Kahne, president of UK College Democrats.

Each organization is out meeting and talking with potential voters today and tomorrow as members knock on doors, work the phones and wave signs confidently for their party while making the final effort for victory in the 2007 election.

About nine UK students stood shivering in the cold with other Democrats, young and old, at the Louisville Democratic Party headquarters on Saturday morning waiting as the oversized vans rolled in to take them out for a morning of door-to-door campaigning.

UK’s College Democrats spent the day in Louisville canvassing with Kentucky College Democrats and about 45 students from throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans was taking a different approach, spreading its canvassers throughout the state to reach more potential voters, Roberts said.

About 18 UK Republicans and 10 out-of-state students ready to tackle precincts in Fayette County gathered for breakfast at the organization’s Victory Office in Lexington, where Roberts said each person was assigned a route for the day.

The canvassing process is similar for both parties: Knock on registered voters’ doors, remind them to vote for the party’s candidates and hand them door hangers with the candidate’s name in big, bold letters. If a voter is not home, leave the sign and move on.

College Democrats and Republicans are also making targeted phone calls to potential voters, reminding them of the party’s candidates for elected positions and their stances on key issues.

Kahne called the Democrats’ unified effort in Louisville a “great party-building activity.”

“This is the only race (in the nation) that’s somewhat competitive, although it’s not as competitive as the Republicans would have hoped,” said Kahne, a political science and economics junior. “But we’re not taking any chances.”

Beshear, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, delivered the same message to enthusiastic supporters, including the student volunteers, at the Louisville party headquarters on Saturday afternoon.

“You’ve done everything in the world to make sure people come out and vote,” Beshear said. “These next 72 hours will bring us home.”

Corey Shepherd, a marketing senior at Auburn University, was among the students from outside the state rallying support for Beshear in Louisville this weekend.

“Louisville hasn’t run an effectively coordinated event in years,” said Shepherd, national membership director for the College Democrats of America, “but this year there is good momentum, and it’s really going to give the Democrats a good starting block for future elections.”

Richard Becker, co-chair of the College Democrats of Kentucky, said the Democrats are “the party that has the interests of young people most at heart.”

“It’s a no-brainer for college students to come out and help these candidates,” said Becker, a history and political science junior at UK.

The Republicans had help from out-of-state canvassers as well. Jonathan Bryant, state chairman of the College Republicans in Tennessee, said he had knocked on at least 100 doors as of Saturday in support of Fletcher.

“I’ve been out knocking on doors all day and talking to voters, and people are giving (Fletcher) a chance,” said Bryant, a politics and government senior at Bryan College. “They’re not closing the door.”

After putting up signs leading to a white tent at the Kentucky Horse Park, Roberts and other College Republican members handed out stickers to those arriving at a rally for Fletcher.

Brent Burchett, president of the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans, said Fletcher’s 62-county, 13-day bus tour that ended Saturday helped bring out more Fletcher supporters.

“Everybody’s been concerned with the poll numbers, but this weekend has changed the momentum of the race,” said Burchett, a public service and leadership senior.

At his rally, Fletcher stood before a crowd of supporters that was chanting “four more years” as other Republicans running for office stood on stage behind him.

Fletcher compared his need for support in the final days of his campaign to a Kentucky Derby winner, reminding the crowd that “every one of those horses turned it on in the final stretch.”

Roberts agreed that turnout efforts could determine the outcome of the race.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the polls because the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day,” Roberts said. “Even if he was up by 20 in the polls, these last few days would still be critical.”