It’s a Dogfight for Third in South Carolina
Photo credit: Lauren Burke, WDCPix
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Fred Thompson’s South Carolina campaign staff has a problem most campaigns wish they could complain about: they ran out of space for volunteers.
The volunteers streaming in to the "Fred08" headquarters in final week and a half proved too much for their cramped quarters to accomodate. So armed with cell phones, scripts and sheets of phone numbers, they decamped to the Clarion Hotel a block down the street where they took over one of the building’s ballrooms.
Even that space, with 75 seats, is bursting at the seams, with volunteers sitting on the floors and stairways outside the room—and a few braving chilly temperatures on a tent-covered terrace coutside. The campaign is shooting for 10,000 voter calls Saturday and stats on a white board in the room boast of more than 7,000 calls Friday.
And that’s only in Columbia, which isn’t even the largest of the Thompson call centers in the state, according to one campaign staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The "surge" of Thompson support (which has brought in both local and out-of-state volunteers) started after the South Carolina debate, the staffer said.
"We’ve had a strong, conservative candidate all along," he said. "Once he did well in the debate here support just started to surge."
He added, "In nasty weather, voter turnout is important."
He almost could have been reading from the script of the volunteers making phone calls as they emphasized Thompson’s conservative credentials and the importance of getting out in spite of the cold, wet grey day.
But Romney’s supporters are working to match that effort, even though their candidate focused on the Nevada Caucuses Saturday before flying to Florida.
Romney won Nevada handily—and his staff in South Carolina is holding out high, if realistic, expectations for a strong third place finish here.
"One thing we’ve learned in the past three weeks is that this is the most fluid, changing race we’ve ever seen," said South Carolina campaign spokesman Will Holley. "Anyone telling you how weather, or anything, will affect turnout is just lying to you."
Holley added, "Is turnout going to jump us from a dogfight for third place to a commanding lead over John McCain? No. but it can help with a few points here or there."
And Holley added that the Romney campaign in South Carolina has been one of sustained effort, recruiting activists and volunteers (overwhelmingly from within the state) to bolster their candidate’s prospects.
The Romney campaign maximized volunteers willing to phone bank by using cell phones, rather than landlines.
"They give us the ability to bring the phone bank to the people," Holley said. "Nobody would drive an hour and a half [to a fixed phone bank] on a Wednesday night, but we can bring people cell phones and they might crank out 50 calls [each] that night."
And how did the volunteers react to their candidate’s victory in Nevada?
"They were shouting about it and now they’re telling folks on the phone about it," Holley said. "Everybody is pleased with that one."