In final 72-hour push, they pound the pavement


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Legions of foot soldiers for both presidential campaigns fanned out across Western Pennsylvania yesterday for the final 72-hour push to Tuesday's election, knocking on doors and making cold calls to ensure their supporters vote.

Workers for Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama drew from volunteer lists and from call sheets developed over the long campaign, saying that in a battleground state such as Pennsylvania, they were leaving nothing to chance.

From Erie to Pittsburgh and from Sharpsburg to Bethel Park, efforts to "Get out the vote" were aided on this first weekend of November by sunny skies and temperatures that in places approached 70 degrees.

Some of those leaving pamphlets in doorways were working in neighborhoods adjoining their own. Others who trudged over fallen leaves came from thousands of miles away, part of a flood of volunteers from less contested states who arrived this weekend by plane, bus or car to bolster the ranks of local supporters.

Isaiah Paine, 24, an Idaho resident and McCain volunteer, was one them. He flew into Pittsburgh Friday evening, and by mid-afternoon yesterday, he and four other out-of state volunteers had approached scores of homes in Bethel Park.

"We each take a side of the street," said Mr. Paine, who was adding some real world experience to the political science and communication degree he finished this spring at Wheaton College in Illinois. "I'm definitely excited. I think we can make a difference."

For all their disagreements, both campaigns seemed in sync on the subject of polls: None of them matter, at least not at this stage.

Though voter surveys show her candidate trailing in Pennsylvania, Jemele Sanderson, 68, a retired school teacher from Sewickley, said that's not what she's experienced since early August as she worked her way through campaign phone call sheets -- about 20 numbers per page. She was among two dozen people staffing a phone bank at mid-afternoon yesterday inside an office in Green Tree converted into a McCain headquarters.

"I don't think I've had a sheet of calls where McCain has not been ahead or neck-and-neck," she said. "I hear these polls, and I think, 'Where are they coming from?' "

Likewise, volunteers for Mr. Obama seemed to have little problem yesterday finding supporters for their candidate.

Suzanne Hall, 55, an Obama volunteer who lives in Shadyside, was only minutes into canvassing part of East Liberty when the first resident she encountered left little doubt that she supported Mr. Obama.

"I will be voting," the woman said as she stepped quickly out the door of her apartment building before driving off. "That is gonna make history. The first black man in the White House."

The Obama campaign was also benefiting from out-of-state volunteers eager to help this weekend.

Busloads of students from the University of Rochester and from Syracuse University were due to arrive, said Allison Price, an Obama campaign spokeswoman. There were even supporters from Toronto expected in Erie, she said.

At an Obama site in East Liberty, several dozen volunteer canvassers were trained and then sent out to surrounding neighborhoods, holding packets of addresses of registered voters. The workers were told where it is and is not legal to place literature and given advice on engaging those who answer doors.

"No matter what the polls say. No matter what the news says. If we don't get out the vote, then we don't win Pennsylvania," Martha Riecks, a volunteer and canvass coordinator, said as she conducted one training session yesterday morning.

She reminded the canvassers to ask for Election Day volunteers who might become useful as cheerleaders encouraging those waiting in long lines to stick it out and vote.

Ms. Price said the next few days are "everything we've been working for in terms of organization." She said the campaign "has been fueled by excitement from the start. Grass-roots support has been the backbone of this operation."

Peter Feldman, a McCain campaign spokesman, declined to discuss polls or get specific about neighborhoods the campaign was focusing on yesterday. But he insisted the candidate "is within field goal distance right now [and] by Tuesday we're going to be in a position to score a touchdown and win this."


Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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