GRAND RAPIDS – Western Michigan conservatives, long considered the counterweight to the overwhelmingly liberal voters of Ann Arbor and Detroit, have entered into the final stage of their campaign to turn out Republican supporters on Election Day.

Chris Dzombak / Daily

Sam Moore, director of the Kent County Republican Party, said canvassers will knock on 100,000 Grand Rapids-area doors over the final three days before the election. The organization will deliver pamphlets promoting Republican candidates, including presidential nominee John McCain.

Volunteers will make phone calls to Republican and undecided voters until polls have closed, to make sure every conservative in the county voter casts a ballot, Moore said.

“We try to provide a cushion for what happens in Detroit,” Moore said. “We have got to try and counter the margins, and that’s what Kent and Ottawa counties do.”

Both the Ottawa County and Kent County GOP groups have focused their efforts on identifying Republican voters and turning them out to vote.

Moore said that after McCain’s campaign pulled advertising and staff out of Michigan about a month ago, he saw an increase in the number of people volunteering to canvass or make phone calls on behalf of Republican candidates.

“There is a sense of urgency here on the ground,” Moore said. “I think everyone does realize that it’s up to us on the ground if we want to try and make a difference in this race and in this state.”

In 2004, 58 percent of Kent County voters chose President George Bush, giving him a margin of 55,000 more votes than the Democratic nominee, John Kerry. In neighboring Ottawa County, 72 percent of voters cast ballots for Bush, giving the Republican candidate a margin of 56,000 votes.

“That helps offset our very dear friends in Ann Arbor and the losses that we’ll have out of there,” Moore said of the 110,000-vote margin.

In Washtenaw County, about 48,000 more voters chose Kerry than Bush. In Wayne County, that number was 342,000.

Statewide, Kerry beat Bush by a margin of 165,000 votes.

Faith Steketee, director of the Ottawa County Republican Party, said her efforts aren’t focused on countering the Democratic majority in southeastern Michigan.

“My job is to get out the maximum number of votes in Ottawa County,” Steketee said. “I can’t affect the state of Michigan or the United States, but I can affect Ottawa County.”

Steketee, who heads the Ottawa County GOP’s headquarters in Holland, said the organization is ahead of schedule in its goal. The office closed early Saturday, though Steketee remained later making phone calls to remind area residents to vote.

“The only thing we can do is get as many Republicans out as possible,” Steketee said. “I wish we were as big as Wayne County. That would really have a huge impact.”

Moore said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a McCain victory in Michigan. He said if the Republican candidate loses, he thinks Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s margin of victory will be narrower than polls suggest. Most recent polling shows the Democratic senator with a double-digit lead in the state.

Moore told volunteers not to get discouraged by polls that put McCain behind in Michigan.

“I kept reminding them, we’ve won the White House on a number of occasions without winning Michigan,” he said.

But on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, Obama-Biden signs outnumber McCain-Palin signs. Supporters of the Democratic ticket there say Obama will win Michigan by a commanding margin.

While Bush defeated Kerry in Kent County by 18 percentage points, the gap between support for Republicans and Democrats in the area narrowed considerably during the 2006 gubernatorial election. Republican Dick DeVos beat the Democratic incumbent Gov. Jennifer Granholm by only 8 percent.

Traci Kornak, a volunteer for Obama’s campaign who coordinates canvassing and phone banking at the Grand Rapids campaign headquarters, said she is working to build on the support Granholm gained in Kent County. She said she thinks the area will shift towards the Democrats and no longer serve as a reliable area for Republican presidential contenders.

“It’s very conservative, but being conservative doesn’t deflect or change in any way what real people feel here everyday,” Kornak said of the region. “Although conservative, we feel the economic pain.”

Despite Grand Rapids’s reputation for strong conservatism, Kornak said the Obama campaign in the city was so overwhelmed by volunteers that it was forced to open seven other offices to serve as locations for their “Get Out the Vote” efforts. She said each location coordinated between 500 and 1000 volunteers on Saturday alone.

“Do I think that (the Republicans’ efforts) can counteract the momentum of this campaign? Absolutely not,” Kornak said.

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