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Should Virginia GOP Worry About New Voters?

Tim Craig

Volunteers for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) are popping up all over Virginia in an apparent massive effort to register new voters.

Earlier today, at least two twenty-something Obama volunteers were canvassing the financial district in downtown Richmond asking nearly everyone, "Are you registered to vote at your current address?"

They appeared to be having some success, as one of the volunteers had a clip board full of completed registration forms.

There were also four Obama volunteers staked out at the Old Town Giant in Alexandria this evening registering voters, according to one Democrat who was approached.

Last week, the Obama campaign announced it was sending 250 volunteers into Virginia to organize and register voters this summer. Called "Obama Organizing Fellows," they are taking part in a six-week program on how to become effective community and political organizers.

Obama already had a devoted team of volunteers from Virginia who have been out registering new voters for weeks. The Obama campaign posted a story on its website earlier this month about a volunteer who registered 561 high school seniors over two days at graduation practices in Virginia Beach.

Obama's efforts are in addition those by the Virginia Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, which is sending paid staffers and volunteers into neighborhoods searching out new voters.

Even before the latest registration drives got underway, Virginia's voter registration rolls had swelled. There has been an increase of 113,000 registered voters (including those who have died or moved away) since the start of the year.

But before Virginia Democrats pin their hopes on new voters this year', they should remember this: There were also plenty of newly registered voters in 2000 and 2004, but that didn't diminish the Republicans' strength come November.

In 2000, the state added 109,000 people to its registration rolls during the first six months of the year. In 2004, there were 88,000 more registered voters in June then there were in January, according to State Board of Elections statistics.

President Bush won Virginia by 262,000 votes in 2004, and by 220,000 votes in 2000.

Even so, despite those past GOP successes, Democrats certainly appear to be outworking Republicans in Virginia this year when it comes to registering new supporters.

In Republican-leaning Amherst County, where whites make up 78 percent of the population, there are now 360 more registered voters then were at the start of the year.

But in heavily-Democratic Petersburg, which is 77 percent black and has roughly the same population as Amherst County, the voter rolls have grown by 646 people since the start of the year.

By Tim Craig  |  June 18, 2008; 7:17 PM ET
Categories:  Tim Craig  
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