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America Votes Plans GOTV Effort in Battlegrounds

Seeking to jump-start a largely moribund third-party political operation in the progressive community, America Votes announced today it has begun its grassroots mobilization efforts in 14 states expected to be presidential battlegrounds in the fall.

The group, which is led by former Texas Congressman Martin Frost, is the last remnant of a massive outside organization -- known collectively as the shadow Democratic Party -- that spent nearly $200 million in an attempt to elect John Kerry in 2004.

America Votes's bigger brothers -- America Coming Together and the Media Fund -- collapsed in the aftermath of that loss, plagued by campaign finance strictures and donor weariness.

"We're all that's left," Frost said of the dissolution of the once-mighty machine funded in large part by a handful of extremely wealthy donors.

Despite that collapse, Frost insisted that AV is well positioned to influence the election. Unlike the more high-profile 527 organizations that operated in 2004, America Votes has a simpler mission -- organize the variant interest groups on the left and coordinate their voter identification and voter turnout efforts to maximize their influence and minimize duplication.

The group announced today it was moving ahead with its plan to enact "grassroots voter mobilization" plans in 14 states -- Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The group has a state director in each state and several other staffers on the ground, according to Frost.

"We've produced very good state plans," said Frost. "We are now passed the planning stage. We are now in the implementation stage."

Frost insisted that his group will we a "significant force" and a "significant presence" in the fall election, but much depends on whether major donors are willing to break with Barack Obama, who has sent clear signals that he prefers they not fund outside groups.

Obama's declaration essentially put Progressive Media USA, which was meant to fund ads attacking John McCain's record, out of business and has had a significant chilling effect on others outside groups dependent on the largess of a few affluent donors for their existence.

Frost argued that America Votes will not run into the financial problems that have plagued other similar efforts because "we have a track record and we have very serious people who know what they're doing."

Early returns this year, however, are not particularly encouraging. In its most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service, America Votes showed it has raised $1.5 million in the first three months of 2008 while spending nearly $1 million more during that time.

By far the largest contributor to America Votes was the Fund for America, an organization established with the stated goal of taking donations from well-heeled contributors and channeling them to worthy progressive organizations. The Fund donated $1 million to America Votes in the first three months of the year -- two-thirds of all contributions it took in during that time.

Since last July, America Votes has raised $5 million -- a decent sum but not nearly enough to fund the sort of vast state-based grassroots operation that Frost and others would like to put into place.

There seems little doubt among Democrats and progressives that the goals of America Votes -- coordination of efforts of the variant liberal groups active in the 2008 election -- are worthy. But, to date, there seems little energy in the donor community -- on either side of the aisle -- for any sort of giving other than to the nominees and congressional campaign committees.

Can Frost and company convince these big donors otherwise?

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 18, 2008; 5:03 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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