Democrats Launch $4.5-Million Effort to Get Out Vote : State Party Vows Push for Dukakis

Times Staff Writer

Leaders of the California Democratic Party said Thursday that they intend to launch the biggest grass-roots effort in state history to elect the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket on Nov. 8.

“We will have the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation the state has ever seen,” said Peter Kelly, the party’s state chairman, at a press conference formally opening the campaign here.

Tony Podesta, Michael S. Dukakis’ California campaign manager, said $4.5 million would be spent on the precinct operation in California alone, compared to $6 million spent nationwide on field work by the 1984 Walter F. Mondale campaign.

Highly Negative Campaign


Although the media--the news coverage and paid advertising--obviously will play a key role in the campaign, knowledgeable political observers think a field operation could also play a critical role in what is developing as a highly negative campaign that may turn off a lot of voters.

Ronald Reagan devastated Mondale here in 1984, defeating him by over 1.5 million votes--5.4 million to 3.9 million. Dukakis must get 1 million more votes than Mondale did to beat George Bush, according to Democratic strategists. Party leaders estimated that about one-third of those votes would have to come from Democratic loyalists who don’t always turn out and the rest from voters whose allegiances are not clear.

“We’ll be targeting precincts with high loyalty and low turnout and also those in the ticket-splitting community,” Podesta said. The campaign will make a major effort to bring out “people who have been underprivileged,” said Vern Watkins, a key Southern California labor leader who is Podesta’s chief deputy.

“You look at those low numbers,” Watkins said, referring to declining turnouts in recent elections, “and you know a lot of people are turned off. We have to define the record of the last eight years and how it’s affected those people.”


The $4.5-million effort is financed by what is known as soft money, funds not subject to the federal spending limits that govern the official presidential campaigns. This money can be spent on field work and “generic” advertising that does not mention a candidate’s name.

Called Campaign ’88

The Democratic effort--called Campaign ’88--will be directed by Kathy Garmezy, a veteran of numerous political campaigns and most recently a media specialist with the AFL-CIO, out of the Palms office where Thursday’s press conference was held.

She said the campaign planned to have an office in every Assembly district in the state and a paid staff of 500 by election day. The massive field operation will be directed by Bob Lawson, an experienced labor organizer, who grew up in Sacramento and supported the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the primary.


“We are going to go house to house . . . door to door . . . from lunch box to lunch box to carry the Dukakis-Bentsen message,” declared Secretary of State March Fong Eu, one of numerous Democratic officials who spoke at the news conference and then jetted off to other press conferences in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego. They asserted that the state’s often fractious Democrats are more unified than they have been in some time.

“For the first time in many years” legislative candidates “are enthused about running with the national ticket,” said state Sen. David Roberti of Hollywood. Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, a Jackson backer in the primary, said “all of us Democrats are coming together to make this a winner.”

Still, Podesta was pressed about how involved Jackson and his supporters would be in the campaign and whether Dukakis can regain lost momentum. “Many people who supported Rev. Jackson are here in this campaign,” Podesta replied. “Rev. Jackson will be in California” campaigning.