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Democrats target midterms with nationwide voter registration drive

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010; 5:39 PM

Democratic activists are staging a national voter registration drive Saturday, with party organizers canvassing at farmers markets, community festivals and neighborhoods across the country in a concerted effort to expand the electorate by engaging people who do not traditionally vote in off-year elections.

More than 600 events this weekend, orchestrated by Organizing for America, are part of the Democratic National Committee's $50 million Vote 2010 program designed to attract new voters as well -- as those who voted for the first time in the 2008 presidential election -- to support Democratic candidates in this November's midterm elections. OFA launched a Web site, RaiseYourVote.com, that party officials call a "one-stop shop" for voters to register.

OFA Director Mitch Stewart said he believes these new and "surge" voters -- many of whom are minority and young -- can help lift Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates in close contests.

"In a lot of these congressional races and in a lot of these statewide races, we believe that the difference between winning or losing is really going to be based on the margins -- 2 or 3 percentage points," Stewart said in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon. Stewart said the effort would help "allies of the president."

The voter registration drive is the latest attempt by Democratic officials to jump-start OFA, the grass-roots network that Barack Obama built as a presidential candidate that is now housed at the DNC. It has drawn criticism from some of the party's veteran operatives who consider it a risky experiment that diverts resources away from turning out base Democrats, who more reliably vote in midterm elections.

Democratic canvassers and OFA volunteers will try to reach new voters Saturday in what party officials say is the Democratic Party's largest voter registration effort of the year. It includes events in such places as California, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, which feature hotly contested statewide races.

Ling Tsou, an OFA organizer in New York City, is hosting a phone bank this weekend to call voters who supported Obama in 2008. "We want to remind them that they helped us bring a hope for a change in 2008 and we need their vote again," Tsou said.

Democrats are using some of the Republican Party's most polarizing figures to stir interest. For example, an invitation to Obama supporters in the Chicago area referred to Nevada Senate nominee Sharron Angle and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) as examples of Republicans who would be "in charge" if the GOP prevails in November.

"It all shows that we don't have a moment to lose as we organize our communities to get out and vote, to fight back against these extremists," Jeremy Bird, deputy director of OFA, said in the e-mail invitation. "Our formula to win against this hateful -- and, frankly, disturbing -- opposition is simple: register new voters, and get as many first-time voters from 2008 as possible back to the polls."

"Together," Bird added, "we'll defeat these people."

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