Even Living Abroad, Democrats Making Their Voices Heard

By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, February 10, 2008

Democrats went to the polls in 22 states last Tuesday, but they also held their first- ever "global primary," an eight-day event for party members who live abroad.

Voters can participate by mail or the Internet (or fax!) at one of the Democrats Abroad centers set up in more than 30 countries. About 6 million U.S. citizens living overseas are eligible to vote, but only about 1 million typically request absentee ballots.

The lack of candidate appearances, television ads and wall-to-wall cable TV coverage has hardly dampened foreign interest in the U.S. Democratic nomination battle, nor has it dulled the enthusiasm of expatriate supporters of Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.); those voters seem as fervent as their brethren back home.

Before the caucuses opened on Super Tuesday, Obama supporter Zbigneiw Brzezinski rallied voters in nine European cities via conference call; local TV stations covered the event. Giovanna Melandri, the New York-born Italian minister of youth and sport, voted for Obama and made a pitch for him on Italian TV. Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton have both traveled to London for fundraisers. Clinton supporters in London distributed cookies and worked polling stations when the caucuses opened Tuesday.

Just seven pledged delegates are at stake. But in a tight contest, who knows? One American poet living in Prague could make all the difference.

Teachers Group in Clinton's Corner

Remember a month ago when the airwaves (and mailboxes) of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire were loaded with appeals from a variety of "independent" groups advocating for one of the top-tier Democrats?

As the race has dragged on, those outside organizations have faded into the ether.

One group -- the American Federation of Teachers -- has persisted, announcing this week that it will fund radio ads supporting Clinton in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin in advance of those states' primaries. (Virginia, Maryland and the District vote in the "Potomac Primary" on Tuesday; Wisconsin's primary is Feb. 19.) These will be the first ads sponsored by AFT since a flight of commercials in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

AFT is spending more than $500,000 on the ads, according to financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission over the past few days. That total included $200,000 for two weeks of radio spots running in advance of the Wisconsin vote and a week's worth of radio in Virginia ($105,000), the District ($131,000) and Maryland ($65,000).

The first ad, which is running in all three "Potomac Primary" states, casts Clinton as the only Democrat who can correct the mistakes of the Bush administration.

"It's tough out there . . . and Bush has made a mess of things . . . it's gonna take Hillary to make things right," said a group of individuals at the start of the commercial.

Later, a narrator notes: "In these tough times, Hillary Clinton knows we need a president who will act on Day One" -- an echo from Clinton's stump speeches.

The Wisconsin ad strikes a similar tone but uses three Wisconsin natives to make the point. "Hillary Clinton is definitely the most experienced and the strongest candidate for president," one says.

With no end in sight in the fight for the Democratic nomination and with Obama carrying a significant financial edge over Clinton, the continued spending of groups such as AFT on her behalf may be Clinton's best chance to level the playing field.

Today: Check out the "Smart Meter" on Holiday Inn Express's Web site ( http://www.hiexpress.com/thesmartmeter). There you'll find a list of the total spending by each of the candidates and how much they could have saved if they had stayed only at Holiday Inn Expresses. (Good idea, right?) How else would The Fix know that Obama spent $833,000 on hotels in 2007 and could have saved $365,000 if he had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express all those nights?

15 days: A bipartisan group of House members will gather in Washington, D.C., for the first in a series of "Congress Debates." The goal? "These debates will enable Republicans and Democrats to discuss our disagreements without being disagreeable," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). The first topic will be how best to foster economic growth and opportunity.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company