Democrats Spend Big to Lure Obama’s Minority and Young Voters Back to the Polls

Karen Tumulty, Washington Post, June 20, 2010

As political gambles go, it’s a big and risky one: $50 million to test the proposition that the Democratic Party’s outreach to new voters that helped make Barack Obama president can work in an election where his name is not on the ballot.

The standard rule of midterm elections is that only the most reliable voters show up at the polls, so both parties have traditionally focused on the unglamorous and conventional work that turns out their bases. But this year, the Democrats are doubling down on registering and motivating newer voters–especially the 15 million heavily minority and young, who made it to the polls for the first time in the last presidential election.

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Much about its “Vote 2010” effort has that way-back feel of two years ago: legions of canvassers going door-to-door, a stream of inspirational videos, an e-mail list of more than 13 million, and ads on Web sites including Latina.com, BlackPlanet.com, YELP.com and DailyCandy.

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There does not seem to be a similar effort within the GOP. A spokesman would not discuss its operations and scoffed at the bet that Democrats are making this year. “When that announcement was made, it just wasn’t taken very credibly,” says Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye. “Those voters just aren’t going to be there this time.”

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Some veteran Democratic Party operatives are also skeptical that the $50 million investment will pay off–except, perhaps, in keeping the grassroots operation alive for Obama’s reelection bid two years from now. Some even suggest that the president’s team has put his long-term interests ahead of his party’s immediate struggle for survival.

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Party officials concede that their efforts to remotivate the new Obama voters are not likely to affect contests where Democrats are running far behind. But they insist it is not unreasonable to believe they can make a difference in races that will be decided by two to four percentage points.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, Gov. Ed Rendell–himself a former national Democratic Party chairman–notes that Democrats now outnumber Republicans in voter registration by 1.3 million, an advantage nearly three times larger than when he ran for governor in 2002. “They are motivate-able,” Rendell said of newer Democratic voters. “Can you motivate all 100 percent of them? No. Can you motivate 20 percent of them? Yes.” How much higher it goes than that, Rendell said, “will decide whether we win or lose.”

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