Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama's Focus on Registering New Voters

Why is Obama interested in getting as many new voters as possible instead of just firing up the base? 

He's a smart man, that's why. Obama focuses on the details. He goes where others don't go, in the nooks and crannies. It's how he won the primary -- focusing on the caucuses and delegate math, which Hillary neglected.

The campaign has focused on younger voters, who will probably be largely responsible for an Obama win, and is now focusing on registering new black voters, some of his staunchest supporters, who have lower rates of registration than whites in certain states.

WSJ: This focus on new voters is unusual. Most presidential campaigns concentrate on firing up their base or wooing independents. Voter-registration drives are treated as an afterthought, overshadowed by fund raisers and door-to-door canvassing.

The presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, has no parallel major voter-registration operation. The Republican Party has stepped up efforts in recent years to woo black voters, though President George W. Bush had limited success in this effort in 2004. However, Sen. McCain is likely instead to spend most of his campaign attempting to pluck off independents and conservative Democrats who may view Sen. Obama as too liberal.

For Sen. Obama, the registration initiative is at the fore, especially since the main reason for low black turnout is low registration. The U.S. Census Bureau says that while registered black voters turn out at a rate generally even with white counterparts, qualified African-Americans register at a lower rate nationally -- 68% to 75% for whites. The gap is particularly stark in the battleground state of Florida, where only 53% of eligible blacks were registered in 2004, compared with 71% of whites. In Virginia, it was 58% to 72%.

If Sen. Obama can achieve registration parity, the effect could be significant, since African-Americans traditionally vote Democratic about 90% of the time. Nationally, black turnout at white levels would have meant an additional 1.6 million voters in 2004, narrowing the three million-vote gap separating President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry. In states and districts with a heavy concentration of black citizens, the gap could have thrown victory to Democrats, including North Carolina, long a Republican stronghold, and currently considered a virtual toss-up by many analysts.