For candidates, supervoters deliver super results

By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel

For candidates in Tuesday's party primaries and nonpartisan elections, no one is more powerful than Jim Demarest of Fort Lauderdale, Susan Freeman of Dania Beach, Susan Goldberg of Boca Raton or Deborah Nix of Delray Beach.

Not the contributors with deep pockets. Not the influential party bosses. Not the campaign managers with strings of victories.

Demarest, Freeman, Goldberg and Nix are what political insiders call “supervoters” because they vote in every election – always. With expectations high for abysmally low voter turnout in Broward and Palm Beach counties next week, support from supervoters is the key to victory.

“Every single effort of our campaign has been targeted at supervoters,” said Buzz Jacobs, a consultant with Sunshine State Communications who is advising Ozzie deFaria, a Broward Republican running for Congress. “Those are going to be the people who decide the election. Period.”

The search for supervoter support is bipartisan. Marcia Monserrat, campaign manger for Democrat Kristin Jacobs, said her candidate's campaign for the U.S. House in Broward and Palm Beach counties has focused almost entirely on supervoters.

In the past three primaries, voter turnout in Broward and Palm Beach counties has averaged 13.6 percent, and the consensus is that this year's participation rate could be far below that, said Jack Shifrel of Coconut Creek, a Broward Democratic Party leader, and Anthony Bustamante, who is managing Karen Harrington's candidacy in a Republican congressional primary in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

When turnout is low, Bustamante and Shifrel said focusing on supervoters is the only sensible strategy. Rather than waste time and money on the vast majority of people who won't vote, campaigns instead target the supervoters, an estimated one out of 10 Democrats or Republicans in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Shifrel said a well-run campaign starts with lists of these very reliable voters, then figures out how to reach them.

“You communicate with those people as often as you can in every way possible,” he said.

That's why Republican candidates buy television advertising on Fox News, the cable channel favored by Republicans, Jacobs said. That's why the mailboxes of supervoters get stuffed with oversized post cards touting the candidates, Shifrel said

And that's why Jacobs travels by Segway. Since supervoters don't live next to each other, Jacobs uses the two-wheeled battery-powered vehicle to visit as many as possible in each neighborhood. She's also held 11 community coffee events, with a telephoned invite going to every nearby supervoter, Monserrat said. Jacobs' campaign opponent, Lois Frankel, didn't discuss her supervoter strategy.

Tactics to reach the approximately 80,000 Broward and 75,000 Palm Beach County supervoters vary by the size of the district. Door-to-door canvassing can have a huge impact in the smaller districts, for instance by candidates running for state House of Representatives, Shifrel said. It's much harder for a candidate to do enough door knocking in larger U.S. House districts or countywide races. In those cases, candidates often rely on volunteers to pound the pavement on their behalf.

In the heat before an August primary, Shifrel said door-do-door campaigning is grueling for candidates and their supporters—“but it's the most effective way.”

“You don't knock on a few [doors]. You knock on a few thousand. There's no way you're going to knock on the door of every single voter. [But] you have to knock on the door of every supervoter,” Shifrel said. “It's a very powerful tool when you're able to look a voter in the eye and tell them why you want to serve and ask them for their vote.”

Supervoters themselves say an in-the-flesh visit by a candidate or a supporter can make an impact. “When it's the candidate themselves, you have the ability to be one-on-one with them and ask a question to their face and get an answer,” said Freeman, a Republican.

Supervoters aren't terribly fond of political junk mail or automated phone calls. “If I know it's a robo-call from the beginning, then I probably don't find out who it is before I hang up,” Demarest said. Nix, a Democrat, said she generally will look at mailers if there are only one or two in her mailbox. But “if it's stuffed, I'm not likely to,” she said.

Even though lots of mailers go straight into the recycling bin, Shifrel said they still may be of value. “That doesn't mean they haven't seen the name. And what a candidate hopes [is] that when they get to the polls they'll vote for a name they've seen,” he said.

Supervoters are more engaged online, both with email and Facebook, than the average citizen, said Bryan Rudnick, a political consultant with Alliance Strategies Group in Boca Raton. And Demarest, a Democrat, said he pays more attention to candidate emails than any pitches they make by phone or mail.

Above all, it's their deep sense of civic duty and responsibility that gets supervoters to the polls election after election.

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