PACIOUS
Kevork Djansezian  /  AP
Republican campaign volunteer Kathleen Pacious talks on her cell phone as she speaks with Republican voters in the Northeast section of Philadelphia at the Cannstatter Volkfest Verein Club on Sunday. Pacious and fellow students from the University of Mary Washington located in Washington arrived Saturday to get out the vote in the closing days of the election. 
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/1/2004 3:38:05 PM ET 2004-11-01T20:38:05

Eight percent. The gap between George W. Bush and John Kerry in the polls has rarely, if ever, been that wide this year.

But when it comes to the Electoral College, eight percent is a significant number: that's the percentage of electoral votes represented by Pennsylvania — 21 out of 270 votes needed to win the White House.

And it's the prize that could decide the election, a trove of votes that the Bush and Kerry campaigns had in their sights as they launched their final ground games in the Keystone State.

GOP going for the homestretch
The GOP's final push was led by President Bush himself, who made his 44th visit to the state on Monday. Bush's message to a crowd in Burgettstown, near the Ohio border, was that they truly can make a difference. 

"I want to thank you for putting up the signs. I want to thank you for making the phone calls," Bush said to the volunteers who gathered at the Post-Gazette Pavilion at Star Lake. "By turning out the vote, by finding people who are concerned about the future of this country, we are going to carry Pennsylvania and win a great victory on Tuesday."

But campaign officials say the rhetoric has to be matched by action if Republicans hope to win in a state where Democrats outnumber them by about a half-million. 

Action was just what volunteers were gunning for in a basement hall at a German-American community hall in northeastern Philadelphia where the walls were lined with hand-painted banners - "Students for Bush," "I Love W," and "Philadelphia Families for Bush." 

After getting a pep talk from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the volunteers hunkered down with rented cell phones and started working their way through reams of registered voter lists. 

According to Mark Pfeifle, a Bush campaign spokesman, the callers reached at least 300,000 voters statewide on Saturday alone. Other volunteers spent the warm fall afternoon canvassing nearby neighborhoods, hoping to make a personal appeal to new and old voters alike. The process lived up to the GOP's reputation for orderliness and organization.

Democrats push with pumpkins
In Philadelphia's Center City, by contrast, the final push for Senator John Kerry was much more exuberant.

One volunteer handed out Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers written in Hebrew at a nearby park.  Jack-o-lanterns carved with the word "Kerry" sat on people's stoops.

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On Sunday, young people dressed for Halloween as Superman or as goblins waved their "Honk for Kerry" posters along Broad Street. 

Driver after driver obliged — a noisy symphony heard even on the 11th floor of a nearby office tower, home to the Kerry campaign's local headquarters. 

Veteran Democratic operative Tricia Enright said it's that kind of enthusiasm that convinces her Kerry will win Pennsylvania.

The Democrats call themselves the experts on Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) efforts, and Enright said that's especially important this year, when many are worried about voter intimidation, perhaps by Republican lawyers in African-American neighborhoods.

She said election lawyers have signed up in droves, ready to respond to any challenges to voters' registration in court. 

Enright insisted the effort isn't just focused on any potential legal problems. She said volunteers will be driving voters to the polls, phone call reminders (both live and recorded) will be made all day long, and volunteers will work the lines, handing out snacks and drinks and umbrellas to keep waiting voters happy.

Will all of this make a difference?  Both campaigns say it will, because getting Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes, or eight percent of the electoral votes needed to win the White House, will ultimately come down to winning that one extra vote for their candidate.

Rosiland Jordan is an NBC News correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

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