RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Well, as Cokie suggested, a lot is riding on how well each candidate gets out the vote. President Obama is campaigning this week in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, three key states where an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows him leading his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, at this point in time. Of course, talking to a pollster is one thing and again, yeah, casting a ballot is something else.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
A sign outside the president's rally in Golden, Colorado last week, read simply: Vote Or They Win. It sounds obvious, but it's not. A CBS/New York Times poll, released this weekend, found the president holds an eight-point lead over Mitt Romney among registered voters nationwide. But when pollsters narrowed their sample to likely voters, that advantage shrinks considerably.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In other words, a critical slice of the president's support comes from people who are not guaranteed to show up for this election. These are the people the Obama campaign and its allies are desperately trying to reach.
PAUL TRUJILLO: Hi Mary. How you doing today? Have you decided who you're going to vote for for the presidential election? OK, great.
HORSLEY: Paul Trujillo is manning a phone bank operated by the Service Employees International Union, part of that group's eight-state effort. In Colorado, the union is urging supporters to sign up to vote by mail. The idea is to make it as easy as possible to vote. Mail-in ballots are also easy to track, so campaigns can pester voters until they send them in.
TRUJILLO: Would you be willing to do that, to register to vote by mail? Like I say, it's more convenient, you don't have to go wait in lines. We can actually have somebody go over there and they'll take a vote-by-mail registration form over to you.
HORSLEY: Republicans are mounting their out get out the vote effort, but converting casual supporters to likely voters is a particular challenge for Mr. Obama. Some of his strongest backing comes from groups that are historically among the least reliable voters, young people, African-Americans and Latinos. These are also groups where the Service Employees Union, whose members include janitors, landscapers and hospital workers, thinks it can lend a hand.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING ON DOOR)
HORSLEY: Union members Laura Richardson and Sabrina Perkins are going door to door in a neighborhood outside Denver, just off a gritty commercial strip lined with liquor stores and cheap motels.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No.
HORSLEY: Richardson and Perkins carry smartphones loaded with information about each house and apartment. Who's registered, which party, whether they've signed up to vote by mail, But people in his neighborhood move around a lot, so high tech is no substitute for direct personal contact.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Mom, did you register to vote through the mail, or are you going to polls?
PATRICIA WARFORD: I'm going to go to the polls.
SABRINA PERKINS: Well, now you even if register to vote through the mail, you can still walk it up there that day, but this ensures that you have your ballot because things happen.
HORSLEY: At Perkins' urging, Patricia Warford(ph) and her daughter both sign up to vote by mail. Not everyone is so receptive.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: We don't really vote. We don't pay attention really.
PERKINS: OK. We can register you right now. Two minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: No. That's fine.
PERKINS: Well, tell me why? I mean, what's like, you know...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I just don't pay attention to it.
HORSLEY: More than 40 percent of the voting age public sat out the last presidential election, even though turnout in 2008 was the highest in four decades. The holy grail in this kind of effort is someone like Henry Miranda. When the union members knock on his door, Miranda volunteers that he wants Mr. Obama to win reelection.
HENRY MIRANDA: You need more than four years to do something to change. You know what, he's on a good path. You know, certain things people may not like or like, but you know what, you got to give him another four years.
HORSLEY: But Miranda, who's almost 30, has never registered to vote. Perkins and Richardson quickly sign him up. They also get him to fill out a postcard pledging to vote for Mr. Obama. Research suggests filling out that card makes a person more likely to follow through. The union will mail the card back to Miranda shortly before the election, like a reminder from the dentist's office.
MIRANDA: That's one extra vote. It might count.
LAURA RICHARDSON: One can make a difference.
PERKINS: It will count.
PERKINS: (Unintelligible) for Colorado.
HORSLEY: The two union members carry on up the street. They've got a lot more doors to knock on before November. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.