Donald Lambro

"Republican volunteers have contacted more than 14 million voters this year and more than 7 million since Labor Day alone," he said last week. "We have made 1 million voter contacts every week for the past five weeks, and for six weeks we have surpassed the number of contacts we made at comparable times in 2004, a presidential year."

This is in sharp contrast to what the Democratic National Committee has been able to do under party chairman Howard Dean's operation, which has been playing "catch-up," a Democratic adviser told me.

Dean's operation has had to depend more heavily on paid workers, union members and out-of-state groups to canvass voters, a force that is not as effective as local volunteers who are going door-to-door in their own neighborhoods, party surveys show.

But Dean has poured much of his money into his controversial 50-state strategy, hiring organizers even in the most Republican states. "We've been laying the groundwork for over a year now, and those early investments are clearly paying off as we head into the final stretch," he said last week.

Republican organizers have been working on their get-out-the-vote operation for much longer. In Tennessee, for example, where there is an unexpectedly close race for an open Senate seat, the GOP's executive director, Chris Devaney, said they've been building their voter list for more than two years. "It's an unprecedented door-to-door effort based on the operation they had in Ohio in 2004, which won the state for President Bush," he told me.

As in other states, GOP volunteers are given target numbers of voters that must be turned out in their precincts and counties, hard quotas that are based on Republican vote totals in previous elections. These totals include an added vote cushion to overcome a large Democratic turnout, he said.

In Pennsylvania, where Republican Sen. Rick Santorum appears headed for defeat, the GOP has amassed an army of 30,000 volunteers overseen by 35 paid field organizers. "It's a pretty strong ground game in place," GOP state chairman Rob Gleason told me.

Still, there can be no question that Republican prospects look bleak. Their only hope is a stronger get-out-the-vote performance in enough states to keep the Democrats' expected gains as low as possible.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.