Saturday, November 20, 2004

Page 5 of 5 Ground War (washingtonpost.com)

Ground War (washingtonpost.com): "Page 5 of 5 < Back
Ground War

"How? Look, there are two kinds of donors -- access donors and ideological donors. Our donors are ideological. We can't give them anything. We have no tickets to the inauguration, no Lincoln Bedroom, no photos with the president," he says, shrugging. "All we can give them is the change they want, and that's all they want."

The Berlin Wall of the law forbids America Coming Together and the other 527s from coordinating with the Democratic National Committee or the Kerry campaign. Publicly, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe has grown used to saying, "It's illegal for me to discuss them." Privately, a senior DNC aide admits it can be quite awkward: Longtime comrades-in-arms, some who worked 16-hour days together through the primaries, now can't even speak to each other.

For Rosenthal, funny, acerbic, brusque, battered from his tussles over the years, this is exquisitely liberating.

Riding in the group's van in Philadelphia, he looks out the window and grins. "In a way, we don't have to take all their [expletive] anymore," he says. "Not the candidate, not the wife, not the manager. This is not so bad."

Foot Soldiers' Pitch

"Tell me the weirdest thing that has happened to you," he commands, back in the group's Philadelphia headquarters, an expectant grin on his face. The uniforms are too hot, the canvassers say. The ex-criminals they approach don't know if they have voting rights. The young hoods won't listen. And the Palms -- the expensive, sophisticated, darling Tungsten 2 Palms! -- are freezing up, jumping around, annoying the canvass teams.

"Those batteries don't last as well as we do," says one of the canvassers. Rosenthal frowns. "This is not good news," he says.

Still, the foot soldiers are cheerful, eager to share their persuasion techniques with the general: Groceries can be carried while working on a prospect. Children can be hoisted onto a hip while Mama fills out her form.

"We were at the mall," begins Watson, in her rolling West Indian accent. " 'Are you registered to vote?' I asked a woman. 'Why should I register to vote?' she says. I say, 'Is this economy okay with you?' She says, 'I think I should register to vote.' " Watson finishes this tale with a flourish, and the room claps and laughs.

Another canvasser from New York talks vaguely about not feeling welcomed by the local workers, then thanks Rosenthal several times for coming to the office to listen to her concerns.

"Are you leading up to some group hug or something?" he says. "Because that is where I draw the line.""

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