Here at the Louisiana headquarters of the presidential candidate, the week before the election, it takes two people at the front desk to keep up with the ringing phones.
Delivery drivers enter and leave through a side door, college students type on laptops while middle-aged volunteers work the phone banks, and a steady stream of people off the street enter the tiny lobby, leaving with lawn signs and bumper stickers.
The same day at the other candidate's headquarters, a campaign sign still hangs on the wall. But that's the only indication that the silent and empty office once served as his Louisiana lifeline.
Democratic challenger John Kerry decided in September that he would no longer spend time or money in Louisiana -- predicting the state would certainly go to President George W. Bush -- so it comes as no surprise that just before the election, one candidate's office is still going strong while the other is shuttered.
But most people would be surprised at whose office remains busy, and whose has closed down.
"THEY WROTE US OFF AS A BUSH STATE, and it's a shame," says Kerry volunteer Josie Lovoi, returning from a back room with a stack of yard signs at Kerry's headquarters on Canal Street.
She recalls how the money dried up in the weeks after the Kerry campaign withdrew from Louisiana. "People kept coming in for signs, and we didn't have any. They were getting frustrated. They thought that, locally, we were giving up. We only had paper signs, and I was telling people to take them to Office Depot and copy them. People were desperate."
"We didn't have signs in this office for about a month," adds office manager Deidra Smith. "People donated to us, and we bought more. People stepped up to the plate." She turns her attention to an elderly couple from Sweden, visiting the United States for a month, who have stopped in for Kerry/Edwards T-shirts.
Because Kerry abandoned his Louisiana push, this office has been running on locally donated funds -- enough to keep it stocked with signs, T-shirts, buttons, stickers, pamphlets and handouts -- and on volunteers.
"We're officially here from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., but people are here before and after -- they're usually working the phone banks until about 10 p.m.," says Emily Sneed, press secretary for Louisiana Victory 2004, a campaigning arm of the state Democratic Party. "The volunteers have always been strong, and after [Kerry pulled out], everyone just kicked it up a notch. I've just never seen this much energy and enthusiasm."
OVER ON VETERANS MEMORIAL BOULEVARD, a man in a Ruger baseball hat stands in the empty lobby of the state's Republican Party headquarters. "Hello?" he calls.
He's come in search of a bumper sticker he saw in traffic the other day: It had photos of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, with the slogan "All My Heroes Wear Cowboy Hats." Ryan Booth, the youthful executive director of the GOP's Victory 2004 campaign, emerges from an office to tell the man that it sounds like a great sticker, but the headquarters doesn't carry it.
Booth is the only person here today. "We normally have some volunteers," he says, "and there really are no full-time staffers anymore. Kerry gave up, so yeah, most of them pulled out and are campaigning in other states." He indicates an empty office across the hall from his own. "That's the official Bush/Cheney campaign headquarters in Louisiana," he says with a smile.
He gets up to greet a woman and a teenage boy who have dropped in. The woman explains the boy is working on a school project, and they would like some George Bush campaign literature. "We don't have a lot of materials here," Booth says apologetically. He gives them all he has -- a brochure encouraging African Americans to sign up as GOP team leaders. "The best place to get them is off the Internet," he says.
"We thought we'd come here and find a lot of stuff," the woman comments before she leaves.
Booth says that most of the GOP's efforts in Louisiana at this point are coordinated on getting out the vote, and on statewide races. "We still have a very intense grassroots effort to get out likely Republican voters on Election Day," he says. "And we've been encouraging people to vote absentee. It's not the same Bush/Cheney effort as it is in the targeted swing states, but there is a significant on-the-ground effort. And if you go to the local grassroots offices, you'll see that effort."
A FEW BLOCKS AWAY ON CAUSEWAY Boulevard, at the local Jefferson Parish headquarters for the Bush/Cheney campaign, it's still quiet, but a little more lively. Two volunteers, Edith Catching and Charlotte Ruiz, are listening to conservative pundit Sean Hannity's radio show and occasionally answering the phone. Campaign signs and stickers, plus stacks and stacks of adult- and child-sized Bush/Cheney T-shirts, are heaped around the office.
A woman and a girl in a plaid school uniform drop by. "My granddaughter wants anything you can give her," the woman tells Ruiz. "She is very motivated." The two leave with yard signs for Bush/Cheney and for U.S. Senate candidate David Vitter.
Catching says this office, too, is run entirely by volunteers and though it seems silent today, it was bustling on Saturday. "We sent 680,000 mailouts last week," she says. "Twice. We have a lot of good volunteers." The office also organizes "sign wavers," groups of people who stand at intersections with campaign signs and wave at the traffic.
Recent polls show that Bush has continued his significant lead in Louisiana. "I think it became obvious to the Kerry campaign that there really isn't any way to make up that deficit," says Booth, at the state GOP headquarters. But over at Kerry's headquarters, volunteers say Bush's lead only makes them more motivated to press on. "Never in my life have I participated in a political campaign," says Lovoi. "I work a $6-an-hour job and when I'm not there, I'm here. My lawn is growing, and no one is cutting my grass until after Election Day."