HELENA - On Election Day, 300 lawyers volunteering for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama will be at polling places across Montana, making sure no legitimate voters are turned away or discouraged from voting.
That's not all, of course. Obama's campaign, operating at full throttle in Montana since late June, has 40 paid field directors, 14,000 volunteers and more than 60 "staging locations" statewide, where workers will coordinate a final get-out-the-vote push that began Friday and culminates Tuesday, Election Day.
"We are mounting a massive field effort to turn out voters, in a way that this state really hasn't seen before," said Caleb Weaver, the spokesman for the Obama campaign in Montana.
Welcome to the big leagues of presidential politics, Montana. But will this unprecedented effort work as planned, delivering Montana to Obama and helping other Democrats up and down the ticket?
That's the big unknown in this election. Montana Republicans, while outgunned financially, say they have a pretty good ground game themselves.
"We have an operation we put together months ago, based on the 2006" elections, said Erik Iverson, chairman of the Montana Republican Party. "It has worked in the past. We're pretty comfortable with where we're at."
Republican presidential nominee John McCain has no paid staffers in Montana and no direct campaign presence, instead relying on the state Republican Party and its efforts.
Montana Democrats, however, have been a definite asset in the Obama campaign, which has deployed its forces in many ways.
Obama's campaign helped coordinate a voter-registration drive that began in July, signing up thousands of new voters. Montana's voter rolls have increased by 10 percent this year, but it's not known how many lean Democratic or Republican, as the state doesn't register people by party.
The state Democratic Party, with the help of the Obama campaign, has raised $6.5 million for its campaign efforts, compared to about $2.4 million for the state Republican Party.
In August, attorneys from the Obama campaign specializing in voting law began visiting with local election officials across Montana.
Duane Winslow, the longtime elections administrator for Yellowstone County in Billings, said the Obama attorneys wanted to know about requirements for voters, election staffing levels, rules at polling places and procedures for counting ballots.
"This is the most intense (effort) that I've ever dealt with, on any national level," Winslow says. "They're very well-organized. It's the most organized campaign I've ever seen."
Weaver said the campaign wants to ensure that everything operates smoothly at polling places on Election Day and the days running up to it, because the Obama campaign hopes to turn out a record number of voters.
"The last thing that we want to see happen is that election offices and polling places get overwhelmed," he said.
The additional 300 volunteer attorneys recruited by the Obama campaign will be assigned a polling place on Election Day, ready to address questions raised about someone's right to vote or to discourage possible voter intimidation by any political side.
Another group of lawyers, coordinated by campaign staff attorney Curtis LeGeyt of Washington, D.C., will run a call-in center in Helena, where they'll answer any questions from their volunteers in the field.
Field directors and volunteers began staffing the Obama "staging centers" Friday, in towns from Glendive to Missoula. They're running "canvass" shifts, where they call prospective voters and make sure they have voted or will vote.
"Literally, someone in the organization is responsible for every inch of the state," Weaver said.
The campaign also is running buses and other forms on transportation on the state's Indian reservations and two major college campuses in Missoula and Bozeman, rounding up voters and getting them to the polls to vote early or vote on Election Day.
"Our focus is on reaching out to people we've identified as Obama supporters and likely Obama supporters and making sure they go vote," Weaver said.
"It all comes back to getting more people involved in the process," he said. "It has been a focus of the Obama campaign from the very beginning: drawing sporadic voters and new voters to the polls. It's all part of the same general philosophy that the more people who cast their ballot, the stronger our democracy is going to be."
The Montana Republican Party has about 20 paid staffers working to turn out Republican-leaning voters, and its own volunteer force runs into the thousands, Iverson said.
The party is using a model that resembles the Obama-Democratic effort this year, where local organizers identify the number of sympathetic voters they need to win in a local district or area and work to turn out that number.
"We have identified a turn-out 'universe' of Republican voters, and if we get this turn-out universe to the polls we know we can win" in that area, Iverson said.
The Obama-Democratic effort is similar to the Republican model because that model was developed first by Republicans. Democrats are playing catch-up to try to match that success, he said.
The difference, Iverson believes, is that Montana Republicans try to register voters they know are more likely to vote Republican, such as people attending gun shows, whereas the Democratic efforts are more scattershot, signing up just anyone.
Iverson says while Republicans believe they can turn out their voters, they're still concerned about how successful the Obama-led Democrats may be in turning out new voters who will vote Democratic across the board.
"The jury is still out on whether there is a lot of new voters and young voters, just because of the Obama campaign," he said. "Probably at the end of the day, both sides are going to do a pretty good job. If you don't do (get out the vote), you know the other side is going to beat you.
"We're both pedal-to-the-metal now on turning out voters. It's all going to come down to the independents and undecideds, who won't decide until Election Day."