With Boston on the cusp of the first open mayoral election in a generation, thousands of volunteers and paid operatives from rival campaigns are knocking on doors from Oak Square to Orient Heights, their intensity a hallmark of the final surge of an increasingly bitter campaign.
The push has begun to get people to the polls on Tuesday.
Political observers give the get-out-the-vote advantage to state Representative Martin J. Walsh, a longtime union leader whose campaign has been fueled in large part by money and muscle from organized labor. But his mayoral rival, Councilor at Large John R. Connolly, has mobilized his own army that he said will make up in smarts and flexibility what it lacks in raw numbers.
Connolly boasted Sunday that he will have more than 1,000 volunteers on Election Day, and his campaign said they would be working out of 14 staging areas across the city. As he spoke, he stood with scores of supporters, most of them women and children, outside his daughter’s school on Humboldt Avenue.
“I will take the moms any day of the week over the machine,” Connolly said as the crowd cheered, a November chill in the air. “Let’s go win this thing!”
Walsh’s camp pushed back at the perception that his fleet of supporters is limited to the ranks of organized labor. His field director, Joe Rull, said the campaign signed up more than 3,500 volunteers for Election Day. This weekend, more than 2,200 people knocked on doors, the majority of them nonunion, Rull said, and some were motivated by the suggestion that Walsh’s support was limited to labor.
“It’s actually firing up the volunteers to go out and make a second or third pass,” Rull said.
On Tuesday, the Walsh campaign will have 14 staging locations across the city.
Standing outside St. Monica’s Church in South Boston on Sunday, following the afternoon Mass in Spanish, Walsh greeted parishioners, posed for photographs, and said he was confident his campaign would show its strength.
“We have a lot of passion,” Walsh said of his team’s ground game. “We have a great organization throughout the city, and since the primary we’ve picked up so many more people, with the integration of Charlotte Golar Richie’s and John Barros’s and Felix Arroyo’s campaigns, and all the other elected officials that came on board.” All three former mayoral candidates have endorsed Walsh.
Connolly said Walsh’s army will be outmaneuvered because voters want a bold leader who is not afraid of change, and Walsh is not able to spark that change. “Marty Walsh is a good man and he wants to do good things for Boston. But Marty is too beholden to a narrow set of interests to be able to make the changes that Boston needs,” said Connolly.
For more than six months, volunteers and paid operatives for both campaigns have toted clipboards from Mattapan to Mission Hill, climbing hills and walking up stairs as they knocked on doors. The goal was to identify voters who will cast a ballot for their candidate. Most campaigns rank voters on a five-point numerical scale with a “one” representing the most fervent supporters.
“The campaigns have identified their vote. Now they need to get it out,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “It’s a cliché and everybody says it, but I think organization will be especially important in this election” because the race remains so close.
A campaign adage calls for “touching” voters a minimum seven times in the days before an election, as a reminder. A touch could be a phone call, a mailed brochure, a booming recording from a sound truck, or a campaign volunteer knocking at the door. On Election Day, a swarm of workers for both candidates will again descend on neighborhoods, going door to door to make sure those they’ve identified as supporters get to the polls.
“You’ll see people being pulled out [their front door] in house coats and slippers,” said John M. Tobin Jr., a former city councilor. “This is going to be a very close race and every vote is going to matter. You will have some people working for the campaigns who will be up for 24 hours straight.”
Roughly 113,000 people cast ballots in September’s preliminary election, which was a 12-candidate race that drew 30 percent of registered voters. Historically, turnout has increased from the preliminary to the final election, but the amount has varied. In 2009, the final election saw anadditional 29,000 voters. But turnout jumped only by 5,000 in the final in 1993, which was the last time Boston elected a new mayor.
This year Walsh edged Connolly in the preliminary election by roughly 1,400 ballots as the state representative won lopsided margins in his district in Dorchester and nearby South Boston. Connolly won 20 percent of his vote from his home ward, which is centered in West Roxbury, while also winning broad support across the city.
Public polls in the last week have swung in Walsh’s favor, but numbers have fluctuated significantly from survey to survey.
“The vacillation in the polls indicates that the vote may be soft in some places,” Watanabe said. “It think it’s so volatile that it actually is anybody’s ballgame.”
Walsh’s campaign says it has an advantage because it believes it has connected with more people.
In a University of Massachusetts Amherst poll released last week, 59 percent of likely voters said they had been contacted by the Walsh campaign, including 21 percent in person. In comparison, 46 percent said the Connolly campaign had contacted them, 16 percent in person.