Getting out the vote

Two tireless campaign volunteers remain energized as the election marathon nears the finish line.

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Longtime DFL volunteer Ann Maczuga jokes with an attendee of the Rally for Change in Minneapolis Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008. Maczuga, who teaches in Minneapolis, is spending the last remaining days before the election knocking on doors, making phone calls, and signing people up to volunteer with the DFL party.

Photo: Jeffrey Thompson, Star Tribune

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If you're supposed to be exhausted at the end of a marathon, nobody told Ann Maczuga and Denise Sheehy.

For months, the two women have immersed themselves in the presidential campaign -- Maczuga for Obama and Sheehy for McCain. Now, with the finish line in sight, the two are sprinting through the final push to get people to the polls and their candidate to the White House.

While the latest polls, TV commercials and endorsements overshadow their work, volunteers such as Maczuga and Sheehy are often the true closers in a campaign, working to make the sale on democracy's ground floor.

Sheehy spent Saturday shuttling between the Shoreview Community Center and a park in Vadnais Heights, deploying teams of volunteers to blanket the Ramsey County suburbs with McCain's message. Across the metro, Maczuga was standing on a chair inside the frenzied DFL campaign office in Maple Grove, giving dozens of Teamsters a how-to pep talk on door-knocking among likely Democrat voters.

"If they don't vote," she hollered, "It doesn't do us any good."

Although both are baby boomer suburbanites, Maczuga, 49, of Maple Grove, and Sheehy, 57, of Shoreview, took different paths to political activism.

Maczuga has worked for 26 years in Minneapolis as a special education teacher for inner-city children ages 3 and younger. She started door-knocking for Democrats several campaigns ago, taking her daughter with her. Now, with her daughter in college, she is giving more of her life to the cause. This summer, she spent about 20 hours a week campaigning for Obama and other Democrats.

"I think particularly in the last eight years, I've been more than interested because I've been very worried about what's going on in our country,'' Maczuga said. Obama, she said, would make a good president because he's thoughtful and intelligent.

"I think he came from some tough times and still knows how good this country can be. Cause he's actually lived it," she said.

Sheehy took a leave as docent at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to work full time for McCain since the Republican National Convention two months ago. She's a longtime interior designer who has raised two sons, the youngest a recent graduate of the Naval Academy.

She met McCain a couple of times at naval functions and decided to jump into her first political campaign as his Ramsey County cochair.

"I just think John McCain leads the kind of life that is reflective of my family and my friends, and he'll be a president who will look out for us, protect us and fight for us," she said.

Separated by politics, the two women still agree on how to win over voters.

"Personal connections are so key," Sheehy said. "Dropping stuff off with people, meeting for coffee, making that phone contact, that's what counts."

Said Maczuga: "Every volunteer that walks in this door, every phone call they make is important ... and I think talking to people is the way that we keep our country on the track that we want it to go."

Zeroing in

Sheehy loaded up her white Audi SUV on Thursday with McCain lawn signs, baseball caps and clipboards then went to the Lake Owasso home of Cammy Oren, who's home-schooling her three kids. As the children played at their feet, the women reviewed maps showing the houses of voters believed to be Republican-leaning.

"The dots on the maps are homes of undecided voters," Sheehy told Oren. "And, of course, those are the people we're after."

As dusk settled that night, Sheehy scooted into the McCain office next to the St. Paul Amtrak station.

Everyone quieted down when actress Patricia Heaton walked in. The abortion opponent and longtime co-star of "Everybody Loves Raymond" was there to fire up the troops, insisting "we can't have an amateur in the White House."

But Sheehy wasn't paying much attention. She was copying names from a poster on the wall of volunteers who had pledged to bang on doors and work phone banks.

'Have you signed up yet?'

After finishing her workday Thursday, Maczuga pulled on running shoes and rolled up the sleeves of her Obama T-shirt. She made a quick stop in the bathroom and reported for duty. It would be six hours before she would sit down.

At the rally that featured Bill Clinton that night, Maczuga recruited more people to help knock on doors.

"Have you signed up for get-out-the-vote?" she asked. No one got off easy.

No time? Maczuga told people they could volunteer anytime in the campaign's final days -- day or night, weekend or weekday. "Do you have an hour? Two hours?" she asked.

Afraid to knock on doors? Maczuga tried to calm fears. "This isn't a pitch anymore," she said, explaining that they'd be visiting Democrat-leaning homes. "It really is easy because you're talking to really friendly people. ... It's actually a lot of fun."

To those who wouldn't sign up, Maczuga said: "Just keep talking to people ... talk to your neighbors. Talk to your friends."

Pumpkin bread, strategy

Friday morning, and Sheehy was on the phone -- again -- in her family's Turtle Lake home.

"Hey, John, I'm starting to get nervous about New Brighton." Another phone rang. "Hello, Nick, I'm calling to confirm you can handle St. Paul, Ward Six, Precinct Nine."

Downstairs, friends and precinct captains were gathered in her kitchen, folding McCain T-shirts and divvying up apples, literature and clipboards for canvassing.

Sheehy came downstairs and served pumpkin bread she baked earlier. She prepped her lieutenants, including Lynn McHale from nearby North Oaks, wife of Timberwolves executive Kevin McHale.

"Through months of voter identification work, we have determined priority precincts," Sheehy explained. "These are the areas with attainable votes. They're undecideds or noncommitteds, not tried and true Republicans but not hostile."

She shrugged off the polls that show McCain trailing Obama in Minnesota.

"If they're leaning," she said, "a personal visit can sway them 70 percent of the time."

Door-to-door politics

Maczuga was back Friday at the Maple Grove DFL office. First, she made dozens of calls to supporters, then she and another volunteer set out to knock on doors.

They headed to a Maple Grove neighborhood near the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes, a list of addresses in hand.

At her second stop, a man came to the door. Are you planning to vote on Tuesday, she asked.

"I am," he said. "But I'm a registered Republican."

Oops, mistake on the list.

"It's human beings that enter this, so if somebody's fingers slip, you know, it happens," Maczuga said with a laugh.

But there was little time to dwell on it. Soon, Maczuga was speed walking to the next house.

There were so many more doors to knock on before Tuesday.

"I think everybody kind of gets that last wind, that last push as to how important these last days are," she said.

curt.brown@startribune.com • 612-673-4767 plouwagie@startribune.com • 612-673-7102

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