Sunday, October 12, 2008

Birmingham Eccentric - Peters targets swing votes

Challenger targets swing votes
By Larry Ruehlen • ECCENTRIC STAFF WRITER • October 12, 2008

Gary Peters faced a tough crowd Thursday.

"Politics can be very civil," he said. "This isn't personal. It is about having a different vision of where we want the country to go."
Peters was looking at Sandy Knollenberg as he made his opening remarks to the Bloomfield Hills Rotary Club.
Sandy Knollenberg's husband Joe is running against Peters for Congress.
Knollenberg's campaign manager Nate Bailey also attended. The symbolism was clear: Peters wasn't going to gain ground with staunch Republicans without a fight.
Peters told a story about a campaign worker going door to door. A man ran to the back of the house to retrieve a photo of former lottery commissioner Peters awarding him a multi-million dollar prize.
"It was a great job because I got to meet some of the happiest people ever," he said.
"A whole new twist on buying votes?" asked a Rotarian, as the small group laughed in unison.
Peters, also a former financial advisor, talked of the need for regulating banks and ending dependence on foreign oil by cultivating alternative sources of power. "Oil and coal are still more efficient," said Rotary member Alan Klein.
Before lunch, Peters conceded he was heading into a hostile environment. He spent the first hour of the day trying to sway an editorial board that habitually endorses Knollenberg.
After making nice with Rotarians, he headed back to his campaign headquarters in Clawson.
The former flower shop isn't much to look at. Posters cover particle board on a makeshift wall. The floor is messy. Papers are everywhere.
So are relatively young campaign workers.
Campaign Manager Julie Petrick seems obsessed with gaining a technological advantage over the Knollenberg crew in Bingham Farms.
"We just talked to our 200,001 voter," she said. "We've knocked on 111,000 doors. There is a lot of excitement for change out there."
Peters and his staff talk of a canvassing event on a beautiful July day as a turning point.
"We had 330 people show up," Peters said. "I was so proud. I'm excited to see what's going to happen the closer we get to election day."
Anna Valencia, 23, is in charge of the ground campaign. Getting as many people to knock on doors as possible is her job. "This is my third campaign cycle," she said. "We are focusing our efforts on persuasion. I've seen it work before and I know it is working for us."
Campaign workers ferret out undecided voters with a computer program. Then it's all about making frequent contact.
"We know who will vote for us and we go after them," Petrick said.
Campaigning in the information age is different, said Valencia, wearing the confident smile of youth. She points to all the computers, cell phones and PDAs. Every staffer is "plugged in" she says, so reaction is swift in the Peters campaign.
Peters touts a poll that says he's leading heading into the last three weeks.
Like Knollenberg, Peters typically has several personal appearances every day. His favorite are the small town hall meetings he holds in houses. A supporter asks him over for a chat and 15 to 20 people usually show up to hear what he has to say.
Peters believes his chances of winning will improve as more commercials hit the airwaves. His intense itinerary will continue until Nov. 4.
"It all depends on which one of us gets the swing voters," he said. "They will rule on election day.".

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