Convention Volunteers Wiped Out Already

For more than a year they've been making campaign signs, phoning voters, knocking on doors and manning the many candidate rallies in Ohio and other battleground states.

Now as President Bush's biggest fans gather in New York for the Republican National Convention (search), even the most enthusiastic party faithful acknowledge the length and intensity of the presidential campaign is wearing them out.

"I won't have much time to rest," said Dorothy Ginther, a delegate from Wooster, Ohio, who's also chairwoman of her local Republican voters.

"It has been a busy campaign and I think that's something they need to address. I hear more complaints about that than anything else, that the campaign started too early," Ginther said. "You get tired of it, absolutely."

Across the nation, intense campaigning began this year long before the conventions and Labor Day, which have been the traditional fall kickoff.

"It's just been constant," said Matt Smyth, spokesman at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "It's not just the volunteers who are getting worn out. It's the campaign staffers."

The close election of 2000 has campaigns feeling pressure to work around the clock, particularly in states where the race appears tight, said Melanie Blumberg, a political science professor at California University in Pennsylvania.

"When you have these battleground states where the election comes down to a handful of precincts, you can't leave anything to chance because the stakes are just so high," she said.

Some volunteers are taking small breaks to avoid burnout.

Kimani Jefferson, a delegate from Coon Rapids, Minn., had two weeks of downtime from volunteering before the convention, which he said is rejuvenating him.

"Sometimes it does get tiring, but it is a labor of love," he said.

Loras Schulte, a computer consultant from Norway, Iowa, said he's holding up, but acknowledged "the fatigue kind of sets in the day after" the election.

GOP leaders have been trying to energize the base at convention breakfasts, caucus meetings and other events, where the relentless campaigning has been a hot topic.

After some Ohio delegates told Bush's chief strategist Karl Rove how hard they were working, a grateful Rove responded with an order for more voter registrations, more volunteers and more pro-Bush activity in the state where polls show the race is even. "I'm asking you to do more than you've ever done before," he said.

Battleground states such as Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have hosted several candidate visits since early spring. In Ohio alone, Bush has made nine trips so far this year — 22 overall since he was elected — and Kerry has campaigned there 12 times.

At each event, volunteers help set up, hand out tickets and credential the press. In between visits, volunteers staff local campaign offices, stuff envelopes, run phone banks, register voters and walk neighborhoods to talk up their candidate.

Most volunteers say they're working hard, but remain energetic.

"Honey, we're fired up! There's no battle fatigue. This battle is marching on," said Oregon delegate Jackie Winters, a state senator from Salem.

Bush lost Oregon four years ago by less than 7,000 votes.

"We want to put him over the top this time," she said.