With neighborhood maps and DFL campaign literature on a table behind her, Jenn Holcomb dispensed last-minute advice before sending her volunteers out to knock on doors.
"Ask someone if they are registered to vote," she said. "Ask if they need a ride to the poll ... if they are really enthusiastic; ask them if they want to volunteer."
After more instructions, the door-knockers were off -- casing Minneapolis neighborhoods on a cold, dark evening in search of supporters they could count on come Nov. 7.
"We're going to talk to everyone we can tonight," Holcomb said Wednesday, "because there's only six days left."
In the flurry leading up to the election, thousands of volunteers from political parties and special interest groups are ringing door bells, dialing phones, and using the latest technology to vacuum up votes. The massive effort to increase voter participation has become more important, experts say, as some recent elections have been decided by just a few hundred votes.
"Democrats and Republicans are almost uniformly supporting their parties' candidates. There are very few swing voters up for grabs and the only really important question is, 'Who does a better job turning out their team of voters?"' said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
"It's all about the number of people you can put on the ground," he said.
The groups have different names for their strategies: microtargeting, the Voter Vault, Call for Change, the Final Four or the 96-hour push, to name a few. But the goal is always to identify likely supporters and lock up their vote.
The GOP's Voter Vault file, state party spokesman Mark Drake said, contains information on 2 million homes in Minnesota. It combines consumer and marketing information, magazine subscription data and other details to give the GOP an idea of who is likely to vote Republican. The party can then use its resources more efficiently.
"We're not going to spend a lot of time on people who would never vote for a Republican if their life depended on it," he said.
The DFL Party has also identified likely supporters through microtargeting, and by merging party data with information from the Secretary of State's Office, said Jess McIntosh, the state party spokeswoman.
Blois Olson, a Democrat and co-publisher of Politics in Minnesota, estimated that both parties spend about 20 percent or 25 percent of their total budgets on such efforts.
When it comes to new trends in Minnesota, Olson said, the parties have been using community organizations or faith groups to reach out to a new immigrant population.
The state's Independence Party doesn't have the financial resources of the other two major parties, but it has been dropping literature at households and relying on volunteers, said Jim Moore, chair of the Independence Party.
"What we lack in size we make up for in fervor," Moore said.
Moore said that while Democrats and Republicans have made a science out of identifying likely supporters, the Independence Party is concentrating on first-time voters and people who have checked out of politics.
Jacobs, the political scientist, rated the Republicans' voter turnout system as the best. He said they'll need it in a year when the Democratic electorate seems more motivated and enthusiastic than the GOP base.
Sarah Janecek, a Republican and co-publisher of Politics of Minnesota, said the conventional wisdom nationwide is that Republicans are depressed and will stay home, because of Iraq and the scandal with Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley of Florida.
Janecek said she once agreed with that theory, "but I don't think so anymore. I think Minnesota voters are going to vote the candidates."
But Democrats, who see some of their candidates with an edge in pre-election polls, also face a risk in their voters becoming overconfident and staying home, Jacobs said.
Plenty of outside groups run their own voter turnout efforts.
America Votes 2006, a coalition of 30 different progressive groups, is launching a 96-hour push including door knocking and phone calling, said Denise Cardinal, a spokeswoman for America Votes Minnesota. The group plans to knock on more than 250,000 doors in progressive areas in the Twin Cities and Duluth.
"This is an off-year election, so we do have to make the effort. It's easier during a presidential (election year)," Cardinal said. "But we know from our partners' talking with voters that people really are paying attention to this election."
The AFL-CIO starts its Final Four program Saturday. It includes contacting workers at their jobs, through phone calls and front-stoop visits. The program includes co-worker to co-worker contact, instead of stranger to stranger visits.
The liberal group MoveOn.org is using a program called Call for Change that lets group members use the Internet to work from a database and make phone calls from their homes, rather than having to go in to a call center, spokesman Adam Green said.
John Lundsten, a 67-year-old MoveOn.org member from Buffalo, says he dedicates an hour or more each night to making those calls. He estimates he's made about 450 over nearly three weeks.
"I'm just a little nobody, in a small town, in a small state," said Lundsten, who described himself as a former Republican. "But just maybe by doing this, I can have an impact."
Twenty-five-year-old Justin Drees, one of the DFL door-knockers trained by Holcomb, felt the same way.
"I feel that there is a great need for change and ... this gives the DFL a face," he said of his volunteer efforts. "It's the least I can do."
By Amy Forliti, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)