At ground zero for GOP GOTV, Gilmore battles doggedly for votes

TOMS RIVER – The myth tells of a warrior who must contend with the invulnerable tide, and in political terms that frigid, foreboding clime right now belongs to Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore, long his party’s South Jersey GOTV shaman.  

The double doors opened and in walked Gilmore, who went up a hallway packed with people in cold weather gear, all here during special hours on a Sunday to vote in this Republican Party stronghold decimated by Hurricane Sandy.

“Thank you for voting today, thank you,” said Gilmore, his hand reaching and finding willing hands extended along the line of those masses crammed into the Ocean County Clerk’s Office.

Gilmore’s base bore a good chunk of the dreadful storm. Fifteen thousand voters on the barrier islands amount to 15,000 Election Day question marks.

The GOP knows it weathered a blow big enough to throw its stride ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election. But Gilmore still wants to project high 60 to low 70 percent turnout range, at least, and show recovery capacity in the worst circumstances.

“We did 28,000 vote-by-mails in 2008, and at the pace we’re on now we’re going to hit 30,000 vote-by-mail ballots by Monday night,” said the chairman.  

In the center of the crowded operations stood Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella, who appeared well-entrenched on the job.

He should be.

He’s got nowhere to go at the end of his shift.

“I’m homeless,” he explained. “I live on LBI and I was evacuated.”

What about Gilmore?

“I have no power,” he said, then caught the quizzical look and grinned fiercely.

“No electricity,” he self-corrected.

In a room off the main hallway, dozens of people intent on early voting and crunched into cubicles filled out their ballots and handed them in.

As of Sunday afternoon, of the county’s 222 polling places, 30 still didn’t have power.

To compensate for that loss, Gilmore bought 100 generators, which stand at the ready for distribution over the coming hours through Election Day.

He’s also equipped with 50,000 provisional ballots, which will be dispersed among all functioning polling places and available for anyone displaced by the storm.

And he has a bus circulating among the shelters.

On the move he caught the eye of another bundled up form on line and found a steady human grip under the folds of clothes.

“Thank you,” Gilmore said again, “for taking the time to vote,” and kept going, pressing forward through the waves of the crowd.

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton