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In closely watched races, campaigns hunt for votes

Nevada Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, talks with Reno resident Craig Rasmussen while campaigning door-to-door with volunteer Erin Burger-Gohl on Monday morning, Nov. 1, 2010 in Reno, Nev. Nevada Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, talks with Reno resident Craig Rasmussen while campaigning door-to-door with volunteer Erin Burger-Gohl on Monday morning, Nov. 1, 2010 in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)
By Michael R. Blood and Cristina Silva
Associated Press / November 1, 2010

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LAS VEGAS—If the nation's most closely watched Senate race is a battle, the campaign offices and neighborhoods of recession-ravaged Nevada were the trenches on Monday in the final hours before Election Day.

Volunteers at GOP offices made their best cold-call pitches: Help Sharron Angle beat U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Democrats -- one dressed as a chicken to mock Angle's refusal to take questions from the media -- hurried from door to door, urging voters in a state hit hard by unemployment and the housing bust to give the Senate majority leader another chance.

Last-minute and, at times, desperate get-out-the-vote drives picked up speed in the state and across the country, with some key races, like Reid-Angle, so close that they could be decided by just a couple votes per precinct.

Among the tightest races were in Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida and Illinois, with the outcomes helping determine how close Republicans will get to taking control of the Senate and if they will gain the majority of governorships.

"I need you in the next few hours," Reid said, alongside first lady Michelle Obama at a suburban Las Vegas rally. "Don't hope someone else will work harder than you. You need to knock on that extra door. You need to make that extra phone call."

Reid's words were at times drowned out by the roaring crowd, who chanted his name and waved campaign signs.

The tea party-backed candidate, Angle, urged her supporters to turn out.

"They understand full well that I am on the verge of ending Harry Reid's campaign," Angle said in an e-mail.

The intense pace of the final day of campaigning -- with television and radio advertisements saturating the airwaves, robocalls ringing tens of thousands of phones and countless knocks on doors -- annoyed some voters.

Shirley Minster, 59, said she has noticed an increase in robocalls in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. And she was not happy about them.

"I think they are an annoyance and it turns me off to even listen to them," said Minster, a Democrat who attended a rally in McKeesport, Pa., that featured former President Bill Clinton.

The race between Sestak, a U.S. representative and former Navy admiral, and Toomey, a former congressman, to replace five-term Arlen Specter was a costly affair in which the campaigns, the parties and advocacy groups spent tens of millions of dollars.

In the Reid-Angle race, spending is expected to surpass $50 million, including millions from labor unions and other outside groups.

A TV advertising shootout has been under way for months -- Angle's ads blame Reid for Nevada's devastated economy, while Reid has sought to paint Angle as a conservative extremist who would gut Social Security and turn her back on the middle class.

Statewide, Democrats hold about a 60,000-vote registration edge over the GOP. Early voting figures that track party turnout showed Democrats and their union supporters blunted a surge of Republican enthusiasm in key counties, confirming a tight race.

As of last week, Angle's campaign said its volunteers contacted voters at least 600,000 times, either by phone or in person. Her volunteers are working several shifts a day at four offices around the state.

At a strip mall in Las Vegas, a Republican office looked like a pre-election assembly line as college students from Brigham Young University furiously dialed up voters. The walls were plastered with Sharron Angle political signs.

One photo was of Reid, with the caption: "Replace this face."

Volunteers called up Nevadans and asked if they had voted yet. If they hadn't, the GOP planned to dispatch volunteers to their doors to make an in-person plea to vote for Angle.

"The reason why I'm here is to protect my future," said volunteer Carl Kimmerley, a 23-year-old BYU junior economics major who wore a T-shirt that said "Remember November, Vote Republican."

Democrats, meanwhile, targeted hundreds of neighborhoods rich in registered Democrats, from Las Vegas to Reno, with both candidates' messages sometimes crisscrossing.

As a plane flew overhead with a banner reading "Anybody But Reid" in Reno, a young woman in a chicken costume and Assemblyman David Bobzien went door to door.

The chicken remained silent, but held a sign that read: "Have You Voted Yet? Vote HarryReid.com"

"I'm walking around with this chicken to drive home the point that Sharron Angle is too chicken to talk to the media," Bobzien said after retiree Craig Rasmussen, 63, opened his door and began laughing.

"That I find to be scary. I don't think she (Angle) will do anything but get in the way and be an obstructionist," Rasmussen said, adding he and his wife planned to vote for Reid.

In Colorado, volunteers at offices for Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Ken Buck made the final push, fueled by coffee and piles of leftover Halloween candy.

Bennet volunteer, 52-year-old nurse LuAnn Lind, said she has volunteered for Democrats for years and was having a harder time firing up likely supporters this time around.

"It's a little less urgent among the people I'm talking to," Lind said.

Republicans down the street seemed surer about their chances in the Senate race.

A retired elementary school teacher, 66-year-old Republican Susan Nalbone, said there's a big difference between this year and two years ago, when she also called voters. In 2008, she said, Republicans were a bit dispirited.

"This is more intense," she said. "I know that elections are all important, all a big deal, but this one feels especially important."

In Florida, the candidates for governor -- Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott -- dashed across the state, ending up in Fort Myers on Monday morning as they tried to reach as many voters as possible.

In the parking lot of a strip mall, Scott urged the crowd of three dozen not only to vote, but to beg their family and friends to vote, too. "We cannot take anything for granted," the 57-year-old businessman said.

Sink quickly swept through a volunteer call center. where the 60-year-old sat down at a phone, along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

"Hi, this is Alex Sink. I'm calling to find out if you've voted in the governor's race," she said.

She listened, smiled and added: "Thank you so much."

Despite all the pitches, there were some voters who had yet to make up their minds.

In West Virginia, Jarrett Breedlove remained on the fence about Gov. Joe Manchin, the Democratic candidate in the closely fought race for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd's seat.

Breedlove said he came to see Clinton, who tried to energize several hundred people crowded outside the Tamarack artisan center in Beckley. "We were just passing by and we realized Bill was going to be here," he said.

Breedlove said he liked Manchin, but remained troubled by Obama.

"I'm leaning a little to the right" this election, he said. "We've gone a bit too far to the left."

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Associated Press writers Martin Griffith in Reno, Nev., Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla., Kelli Kennedy in Miami, Mitch Stacy in Fort Myers, Fla., Jennifer C. Yates in Williamsport, Pa., Marc Levy in Philadelphia, Lawrence Messina in Charlston, W. Va., Kristen Wyatt in Denver and Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.