Registration Gains Favor Democrats

By Alec MacGillis and Alice Crites
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 6, 2008

As the deadline for voter registration arrives today in many states, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is poised to benefit from a wave of newcomers to the rolls in key states in numbers that far outweigh any gains made by Republicans.

In the past year, the rolls have expanded by about 4 million voters in a dozen key states -- 11 Obama targets that were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 (Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico) plus Pennsylvania, the largest state carried by Sen. John F. Kerry that Sen. John McCain is targeting.

In Florida, Democratic registration gains this year are more than double those made by Republicans; in Colorado and Nevada the ratio is 4 to 1, and in North Carolina it is 6 to 1. Even in states with nonpartisan registration, the trend is clear -- of the 310,000 new voters in Virginia, a disproportionate share live in Democratic strongholds.

Republicans acknowledge the challenge but say Obama still has to prove he can get the new voters to the polls.

"The machine that has been put in place by the Democrats is effective. They have a lot of people holding clipboards," said Brian K. Krolicki (R) , the lieutenant governor of Nevada. But he added: "There's a difference between successful registration and a groundswell. It's mechanics versus momentum."

The Obama campaign says it expects the numbers of new voters in swing states to swell even more later this month as elections offices process the tens of thousands of registrations still pouring in. And it exudes confidence about its ability to turn the new voters out with a vigorous follow-up operation. "This a lesson we learned. The old-fashioned way of registering voters was to stand on the corner of the street, stand on the campus quad and register one by one, which we still do," said Jon Carson, the campaign's national field director. "But another important component is getting people the information they need to participate."

Obama, who led a major voter drive in Chicago in 1992, has stressed voter registration from the outset of his campaign, seeing younger or disaffected Americans as a crucial pool of support. The campaign intensified its outreach over the summer, dispatching hundreds of staff members and volunteers to states with large percentages of unregistered voters.

Complementing its efforts are organizations that have been registering hundreds of thousands on their own, such as Democracia USA, which registers Hispanic voters; ACORN, the anti-poverty group; and Women's Voices, Women Vote, which targets unmarried women. More generally, this year's registration tilt is part of a broader shift since 2004 away from Republican affiliation, particularly among younger and Hispanic voters and among college-educated professionals in former GOP strongholds such as New Hampshire, Colorado, and the suburbs of Philadelphia and Northern Virginia.

In Florida, 800,000 voters have been added to the rolls this year, fewer than were added in 2004. The secretary of state's office attributes the drop to registration efforts reaching a saturation point and to the slowing of the state's population growth since 2004.

But the Democratic edge is still more apparent than it was in 2004, when Republicans made a big push to register evangelical Christians in the state. As of Sept. 1, the most recent date for which new registrations are divided by party, Democratic rolls were up by 316,000 and GOP rolls by 129,000 this year. The GOP figure falls short of the gain of 155,000 among independents.

This year's additions expanded the Democrats' registration edge in Florida to half a million voters, a gap expected to grow by Election Day as the thousands of voters who have signed up since Sept. 1 are added to the party totals.

The ratio is more lopsided in North Carolina, where Democrats have added 208,000 voters this year. The 34,000 voters the Republicans have added lags well behind the 148,000 new independents. Four years ago, when Bush won the state with 56 percent of the vote, the picture was different -- Democrats added 192,000 voters during all of 2004, but Republicans nearly matched them with 179,000 new voters of their own.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company