- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2008

CLAIRTON, Pa. | Five days a week, Linda Graham trolls tattered neighborhoods of this once thriving steel city outside Pittsburgh for unregistered voters she can sign up as Democrats - one of thousands of unknown volunteers whose work outside the limelight has already altered the basic arithmetic of the November election.

The epic nomination battle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton helped put millions more Democrats on the voter rolls while Republican registration declined. Ms. Graham, 45, has taken three months of unpaid leave from her job at Pittsburgh’s Central Blood Bank in the hope of adding to those gains before the presidential vote.

She’s encouraged by the response here. “They’re all feeling the crunch” of lost jobs and a sagging economy, Ms. Graham said. “But people are feeling empowered. They’re feeling like, you know what, I hold a little bit of power in this.”

To counter this effort, the Republicans are counting on a formidable, high-tech get-out-the-vote operation that has helped them win the past two presidential elections.

Since the last national election in 2006, volunteers like Ms. Graham combined with the enthusiasm generated by the Obama-Clinton struggle to add more than 2 million Democrats to voter rolls in the 28 states that register voters according to party affiliation. The Republicans have lost nearly 344,000 voters in the same states.

Both Mr. Obama and his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, are fighting for independent swing voters, and many of the new Democrats had been unaffiliated voters.

The number of unaffiliated voters dropped by nearly 900,000 since 2006. Many joined the Democratic Party to take part in the primaries and caucuses, and they will now be targeted by an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign.

The Republicans are relying on a more traditional voter-registration model, with the Republican National Committee leading the effort among state parties.

“We hope that the hard work we’ve done in the past will provide us with a strategic advantage,” said Mike DuHaime, Mr. McCain’s political director. “We will have the most technologically advanced ground operation ever.”

Mr. DuHaime said the RNC is working with state parties to register voters in every battleground state. He said there is extra emphasis on the fast-growing ones, including Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida and North Carolina.

Nationwide, there are about 42 million registered Democrats and about 31 million Republicans, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press.

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