Rick Brand Portrait of Newsday reporter Rick Brand taken on

Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.

They call it the "ground game."

In politics, it is the weeks and months of knocking on doors, making phone calls, identifying potential supporters and ultimately dragging them to the polls on Election Day.

"The get-out-the-vote effort in off-year elections is crucial," said Jay Jacobs, Nassau County and state Democratic chairman. "You can have 75 percent of the public agreeing your candidate should win, but it won't matter if their 25 percent comes out and your 75 percent stays home."

That kind of grunt work is especially important in 2011's off-year contest when the public is still sour over the economy and turnout could be as low as 20 percent to 25 percent. It is especially important because the top of the ballot in both counties this year are the races for 10 State Supreme Court judgeships, where candidates are little-known.

Even Suffolk's top race for county executive is an open seat, and despite months of campaigning, neither of the contenders -- Republican Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter and Democratic Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone -- are household names.

Joseph Mondello, the Nassau Republican chairman, said he had 3,000 to 4,000 volunteers out knocking on doors this weekend and plans to have 2,000 on the street on Election Day helping to turn out the vote. "The key to winning is person-to-person communication," Mondello said.

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"I never underestimate Joe Mondello's ability to bring out the vote; he can literally call on hundreds of workers in the Town of Hempstead, Oyster Bay and now county employees working for [Republican County Executive] Ed Mangano," Jacobs said, but noted that Democrats are getting help from public union workers "disgusted with the Republicans because of their unwillingness to even come to the table and negotiate" over layoffs Mangano said he will make if unions don't agree to $150 million in concessions.

But Mondello said the GOP is "standing on the right side of the people" because the party opposes any tax increase.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he has dramatically increased grassroots efforts. He said he does not want a repeat of 2009, when the party lost several close elections because Democrats stayed home. He also said the party improved grassroots operations as a result of last year's squeaker victory by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) over GOP challenger Randy Altschuler.

"This is hundred times more intense than anything we have ever done," said Schaffer, who started in politics at age 10 doing literature drops for former Rep. Tom Downey.

Schaffer said he expects to spend $900,000 on field operations. He added that Democrats are using computer software -- which examines everything from voters' magazine subscriptions to their buying preferences -- to help identify likely supporters or those who are persuadable.

Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle predicted Schaffer's efforts will backfire because many of his paid workers come from outside Suffolk and will alienate local voters. LaValle said he expects to have 500 to 1,000 local GOP campaign workers Election Day. "We have definitely put ourselves in a position to win," even though the Democrats will outspend the GOP 5-to-1, he said.

Mondello, meanwhile, said he has an early warning system. He's an usher Sunday at church, and, "if they take the church bulletin and talk to me, I know I'm OK. If they look away, I know I have problems."