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Political Activists of All Kinds

Potomac is home to top volunteers for Bush, Kerry.

Potomac packs a political punch.

Residents of the 20854 zip code have contributed more than $4.2 million to political campaigns this election cycle, about 124 times the national average, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors political contributions.

Potomac's zip is the 14th most powerful nationwide, exceeded only by a handful of zip codes abutting Central Park in Manhattan and places like Beverly Hills, Calif.

Several area residents are putting their mouths where their money is, and working to tip the outcome of the upcoming presidential election.

Naomi Bloch has been a Kerry supporter since the summer of 2003, when close to a dozen candidates were vying for the Democratic nomination. Bloch saw Kerry speak at the Take Back America conference in Washington.

“I had been aware of Kerry for years. … I had favorable feelings about him to start with,” she said. And though the conference was a “spectacular” event, only Kerry truly inspired Bloch’s confidence as a future president. “I felt that after 9/11 the Democrats could really not put up someone that did not have a military background and have a more global perspective on things. I felt that was essential,” she said. “All of them when I really got down to it were what I called half-candidates.” Except Kerry.

Bloch started attending Kerry meetups—local events for supporters organized through the national campaign.

By primary season, as Kerry was gaining momentum, Bloch sensed an untapped energy among the Kerry supporters, a feeling that the monthly meetups weren’t doing enough. So she started MC for Kerry, which met weekly.

“After the primary, when Senator Kerry did so well, people started coming out of the woodwork,” Bloch said.

The group grew to a statewide model for local, grassroots organizing. It has snowballed to more than 2,000 people, trained hundreds of registrars, and established close ties to the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and the Maryland Democratic Party. The group’s success isn’t because Bloch, or anyone else in the group, is a political mastermind. Quite the opposite, Bloch says.

“WE’RE ALL NEWBIES to this…so we were not politically savvy as to how all this is done,” Bloch said. But she believes that the fact that newbies are making an impact gets to the heart of what’s happening this election.

“Something’s really different this year,” she said. Americans have wakened up from political apathy and immersed themselves in the political process. “This is the year of the first-time voter,” she said, and of the first time organizer. “It’s not like we’re dragging people along to this… the people are leading the way in this election.”

“I’ve lost count of the people who’ve said, ‘I’ve never done this before, I’ve never gotten involved before, I’ve never written a check to a candidate before.’”

Bloch isn’t at all bothered to be an organizer in a state that most pundits don’t consider seriously contested in the presidential election. “Maryland has been creeping towards swing state status for a while now and people are sort of foolish if they start taking Maryland for granted,” she said.

“We have to win by a wide margin…that’s the best way to send a message to the rest of the world that these policies are not America.”

If President George W. Bush can win reelection by generating excitement, dollars, and votes from a core of loyal supporters, of friends, Thomas Kuhn is part of that group.

Kuhn was a college classmate and friend of the president. They’ve remained personal friends since then and Kuhn admires Bush both as an individual and as a leader.

It’s clear that Kuhn is not merely a fair-weather supporter. He backed Bush in his first bid for governor of Texas against Ann Richards in 1994, “when nobody thought he was going to win.”

This year is no different. Stirring up support for the incumbent is more of an insiders’ game than mobilizing for a challenger, a natural spot for Kuhn. “My activities have been largely in the area of trying to get people in the community actively involved to help support him,” he said.

Kuhn seems to mean the Bush community. His work is “more on the national scene than anything else,” he said. Kuhn, the president of Edison Electric Institute, an energy industry group, has helped put together a coalition of industry association leaders that back the president. “It’s been an informal association of CEOs for Bush,” he said.

“It was more us doing the listening and then responding to requests,” from Bush/Cheney headquarters said Henson Moore, president of the American Forest and Paper Association, another member of the group. Moore, also a Potomac resident, is a former congressman from Louisiana and served as Deputy Chief of Staff for George H.W. Bush during his second term.

“This race is going to be a referendum on the president’s policy in Iraq," Moore said. "I don’t think Senator Kerry is the issue. ... I think the issue is in most voters minds [is] 'Is the president doing the right thing in Iraq and is the economy recovering or not.'”

For Moore--a Bush campaign "Pioneer" who has raised more than $100,000 in personal contributions, the answer is yes. “The reason why I’m supporting Bush is strictly on issues,” he said. "I philosophically identify more with President Bush than Senator Kerry."

Asked why he backs the president, Kuhn said that it “gets down to proven leadership.”

“The president has not only a proven leadership in running a major administration as a governor but he’s done it for the country,” he said. Above all, Kuhn respects Bush’s conviction. The president never waivers from what he thinks is right, Kuhn said.

“I think anybody that comes into personal contact with the president is incredibly impressed with just how caring and personable he is and how much he really enjoys and loves people.”

As for Bush’s casting by comics and satirists as a dimwit, “It definitely doesn’t get under his skin,” Kuhn said. “He is a very, very confident self assured person, and he’s not fazed by that kind of thing at all.”

The inside line on what will happen Nov. 2 depends on who you ask. “I’ve never been in the business of political prognosticating but I’m fairly confident that he’s going to get elected,” Kuhn said of Bush.

Bloch, of the Kerry camp felt the same way: “I feel extremely hopeful about the election. I think that we probably will win.”