While the Democratic rivals for governor spend millions of dollars on television ads, another battle for votes is taking place on the ground, where the campaigns are mobilizing get-out-the-vote efforts precinct by precinct in the far-flung towns of rural counties, in affluent suburbs, and in the cities.
A candidate's field operation is crucial in a close race, because a well-run organization can deliver a bloc of loyalists on election day -- and on that front, Democrat Deval L. Patrick may have the inside track. He has created an Internet-linked network of passionate supporters, modeled in part after Howard Dean's 2004 run for the Democratic nomination for president, and also landed more traditional support among some unions and elected officials. He easily cleared the first two hurdles of the campaign, beating his rivals in the February caucuses and the June state convention.
``It was the basis of the candidacy from the beginning," Patrick campaign manager John Walsh said of the campaign's field network. ``We decided that a grass-roots model is the only one which has worked for Democrats in the last 20 years."
Both of Patrick's Democratic rivals insist they will compete with him vote for vote.
Christopher Gabrieli has moved over the summer to construct a field organization, tapping into his deep financial resources to build on voter interest he has created around his candidacy with some $5 million in television ads since late April.
And Thomas F. Reilly, a two-term attorney general who started the campaign as the best known of the candidates, aims to generate votes from more traditional sources -- unions and the elected officials who have endorsed him and can mobilize their own networks on the Sept. 19 primary.
``Field organization is everything in a tight primary," said Democratic Party chairman Philip W. Johnston, who shunned advertising to build a strong grassroots organization in a 1996 congressional race that he lost by a handful of votes. ``That usually determines the outcome. It's clear that all three candidate are increasingly emphasizing the need for a strong field organization."
Complicating the equation is that Reilly and Gabrieli are pursuing some of the same moderate and conservative voters, while Patrick tends to enjoy support among liberals, those with higher levels of education, and minorities. Gabrieli is also targeting independents, who can vote in the primary.
One consensus among strategists throughout the state is that Patrick, who entered the campaign with no experience in politics, has emerged with the most technologically sophisticated and far reaching of the organizations.
Using Patrick's campaign website, supporters and donors can identify fellow supporters, communicate with each other, or check in with Patrick's Boston headquarters. A supporter who signs up on the website gains access to a statewide voter list, allowing that person to reach out to friends and families to urge them to back Patrick. The campaign has also raised about $1 million over the Internet.
The website also enables the campaign to communicate with thousands of supporters at once. For example, this week the campaign sent an e-mail to its Boston supporters, all listed in the campaign database, encouraging them to identify 15,000 new supporters in the next 10 days.
The operation has a system of rewards and incentives. If a supporter meets certain thresholds, he or she will get a personal call from Patrick. If a supporter signs up 500 voters pledged to Patrick, the candidate will cook dinner for that supporter.
While Patrick has used the Internet, Reilly has built his field effort on more traditional sources: unions, state representatives, state senators, and other elected officials, including many mayors of urban centers where his strategists expect to pick up his core voters -- blue-collar, working middle class, moderate, and older Democrats.
Reilly hopes to be helped by Democratic primary races for legislative seats that are taking place in areas where he is expected to be strong, driving up local voter turnout. The elections include a primary race for open House seats in Methuen and Fitchburg, and an open Senate seat in Springfield.
The attorney general has also lined up support from 15 mayors, the most important being Thomas M. Menino. In Springfield, Reilly has picked up Hampden County Sheriff J. John Ashe.
In Worcester County, the Reilly campaign is depending on Sheriff Guy Glodis, who is putting his field-organization skills up against those of US Representative James P. McGovern, a popular Democrat who is backing Patrick.
Corey Welford, Reilly campaign spokesman, said the campaign has set up regional phone banks that are making ``thousands of phone calls" to identify Reilly voters. He said the campaign has also mailed literature to voters, distributed lawn signs, and will hold a statewide literature drop.
``We have been preparing for Sept. 19 and Nov. 7 for more than a year and will execute a smart, focused, winning strategy to get out the voters," Welford said.
Gabrieli, who has already spent nearly $7.5 million of his own money for his campaign, has been constructing a field organization quickly over the last month. His spokesman, Joseph Ganley, said the campaign has hired four staff members to head up four regions of the state.
``The bulk of it is done by volunteers," he said. The campaign has created a system by which each Senate district coordinator finds 50 people who can identify 20 Gabrieli voters.
Last weekend, the campaign held an organizational meeting at Florian Hall in Boston to organize its get-out-the-vote effort.
Ganley said the campaign has identified 75,000 Democrats and independents who say they will vote for Gabrieli. He would not elaborate, but recent campaign expense reports suggest how the Gabrieli campaign will target those voters.
Gabrieli's most recent expense reports show a $66,000 payment to a California firm, Polimetrix. The Palo Alto-based firm has created cutting-edge technology for identifying voters, a process referred to as ``microtargeting." It used a database that incorporates personal and consumer information. Using that information and providing updated voter lists, Polimetrix superimposes its data information on the voter lists to ``mine" a sub-group.
The lists are also used for the sort of heavy direct-mail effort that Gabrieli is carrying. The mailings, which Ganley says have so far cost about $350,000, are followed up with phone calls.
Meanwhile, the campaign is opening regional phone-bank centers around the state. Like his rivals, Gabrieli is counting on several of the unions that have endorsed him, such as Ironworkers Local 7 and the Boston Carmens Union and others, to help get voters to the poll.
``For us, it is a turnout game," Ganley said. He said a turnout close to that of the 2002 primary, when Gabrieli ran for lieutenant governor, will be key. ``If we can get that, we are in good shape," he said. ``A more liberal, insider turnout, that is something we need to be careful about."