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Sierra Club will goad out the vote

In the last presidential election, more than 34,000 people who live near Tampa Bay said they cared about clean air and water. Many cared enough to join the Sierra Club.

None cared enough to vote.

To get those people to the polls this year, the national Sierra Club kicked off a campaign Thursday to reach thousands of Tampa Bay area residents who likely will back John Kerry for president.

In the next five weeks, the Sierra Club wants to contact those people eight times. They plan to phone them, knock on their doors, e-mail them, send them mail, and call them again _ and again.

"There were thousands of Sierra Club members who did not vote," said Greg Haegele, the club's national political director, who flew in for the event. "If they did, George Bush would not be setting environmental policy right now."

The club will compare the two candidate's records, but it can't endorse Kerry outright. The message, though, is clear. The pamphlets say Kerry wants polluters to clean up toxic waste dumps, while Bush does not.

The pamphlets, printed in soy ink, don't mention candidate Ralph Nader.

The people the club wants to reach turn off the television when campaign ads flicker on, Haegele said. "They care about the environment, but they don't like politics," he said. "They tune it out."

Groups can't influence them by running ads, he said. They need to get them on the phone or meet them at their doors.

For that, the Sierra Club needs volunteers. The 40 people who attended a rally Thursday at the Mahaffey Theater at the Bayfront Center were true believers.

Organizer Joe Murphy pumped up the crowd by raising his clipboard in the air. One day, he said, a sweat-stained clipboard will be in the Smithsonian Institution.

With hard work, "the clipboard becomes a very powerful tool," Murphy said. "They are almost magical."