Tennesseans Waging Presidential Campaign — in N.C., Ohio, Va…

Assuming that the presidential race is already decided in Tennessee in favor of Mitt Romney, the state’s Democrats and Republicans are both providing party activists to work for votes in other states where the outcome is in doubt.
But Tennessee chairmen of the two major parties say there’s also a push to turn out voters for their candidates within the state, in part because of a belief that the margin of Romney’s win could impact the outcome in “down-the-ballot” races, including those for seats in the state Legislature.
For Democrats and Republicans alike, the top target for Tennessee out-of-state influence efforts is North Carolina, where President Barack Obama won a narrow victory four years ago and narrowly trails Republican Mitt Romney in recent polls this year.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has already made a trip to Asheville campaigning for Romney, and state Republican Chairman Chis Devaney has journeyed to Charlotte, joining his state chairman counterparts from South Carolina and Georgia, which are collaborating in promoting Romney in North Carolina.
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester, meanwhile, says more than 500 Tennessee volunteers have signed up for trips to the Tar Heel state — sometimes two or three per car and at other times by the bus load — to knock on doors of “persuadable voters” on Obama’s behalf after “highly sophisticated training.” Far more are making telephone calls to Carolina voters, he said.
Especially for Republicans, the Tennessee political outreach is going into states other than North Carolina. Congresswoman Diane Black of Gallatin will travel to Wisconsin on Monday to campaign for Romney, according to spokeswoman Allison Huff, and has organized a “Women for Mitt” trip to another “battleground state,” yet to be designated by the Romney campaign, for Nov. 2.
A group of Knoxville Republicans is planning a trip to Ohio soon, according to Devaney, though the exact date and details have not been set. Tennessee Republican volunteers are making many phone bank calls to Virginia and Ohio as well as North Carolina, he said.
In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain carried Tennessee by almost 400,000 votes or 15 percentage points, 56.8 percent to 41.8 percent. There was a similar result in 2004, when Republican George W. Bush’s Tennessee win over Democrat John Kerry came by a 14 percentage point spread.
Both Tennessee party chairmen declared their primary focus within the state is on legislative races, though Devaney said that those races “kind of go hand in hand” with the presidential contest.
“If the percentages are as high for Mitt Romney in this state as I anticipate they will be, that helps candidates all down the ballot,” said Devaney. “If it gets above 14 percent, a candidate has some coattails.”
Devaney said he thinks Romney has “a good chance” of doing better against Obama than McCain did four years ago. Forrester doesn’t think so, seeing “an enthusiasm gap” that is increasing because of Romney “gaffes.”
“Because of diminished enthusiasm, he’s going to provide very minimal lift for the down-ballot races,” said Forrester.
Devaney said that it appears Tennessee Democrats’ “whole focus, as far as I can tell, is out of state. It’s almost like they’ve given up on working within the state.”
That is not the case, said Forrester. The Obama for America campaign has focused on organizing Tennesseans for the travels to North Carolina, he said, while the state party focuses on in-state efforts — though those can overlap.
Democratic volunteers had contacted more than 136,000 specifically-selected Tennessee voters as of Friday, either via phone or by personal visit, Forrester said, and the effort will increase as the election draws closer.
“Surprisingly to some people, we’re doing a pretty aggressive phone operation in Tennessee,” he said.
The phone calls may go, for example, to black voters who are highly aware of the president and eager to support him, Forrester said, but may not be as knowledgeable of Democratic legislative candidates — especially after this year’s redistricting.
“It requires educating that voter about going down the ballot so there’s no drop off,” Forrester said. “There’s no better way to educate a voter than with a face-to-face contact.”
With that in mind, he said Democrats statewide are planning a major voter contact effort on Sept. 29, focusing on areas where Democratic legislative candidates are facing competitive races.
Haslam, who chairs the Romney campaign in Tennessee, said he does not worry about the GOP nominee’s prospects within the state and expects him to “win big.”
“I worry about him nationally,” said the governor, who has agreed to serve as a surrogate speaker for Romney in other states.
Haslam said he is working with the Romney campaign to arrange out-of-state campaign trips, though nothing is firm at this point. He mentioned another visit to North Carolina and a trip to Ohio as possibilities.
But he added, “My first priority is Tennessee races” by Republican legislative candidates.

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