- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2011

In 2008, Barack Obama tapped into a record of nearly 15 million voters who cast ballots for the first time, a surge in registration that may be difficult to replicate next year.

Recent voter registration data show Democrats have lost ground in key states Mr. Obama carried in 2008, an early warning siren for the president’s re-election campaign.

While Republican numbers have also dipped in some states, the drop in the Democrats’ ranks highlights the importance of the Obama campaign’s volunteer base and the challenge it could have registering new voters.

“When you look back at 2008, there has to be a recognition that it was a historic election, a historic candidate, a historic moment in time and potentially some type of a ceiling - I’m not sure there is ever a hard ceiling - in terms of voter registration,” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane.

He said the political map in 2012 will likely look more like it did going into the close contests of 2000 and 2004, which hinged on swing states such as Florida and Ohio, respectively, than in 2008, when Mr. Obama won traditionally Republican states including Indiana and North Carolina.

Mr. Obama will have to reignite the passions of some Democrats who had high hopes going into his presidency and may be ambivalent about him now. Polls also have shown some political independents drifting away from Mr. Obama since 2008.

While Democratic registrations ballooned prior to the 2008 election, the numbers have declined in several important states, including:

• Florida: Democrats added more than 600,000 registered voters from 2006 to 2008, giving Mr. Obama about 4.8 million registered Democrats to help his cause. Registered Democrats now number 4.6 million in the Sunshine State. Republican registrations also have slipped, but not by as much - from 4.1 million in 2008 to about 4.05 million in mid-March, the most recent data available.

• Pennsylvania: Democrats maintain a 1.5 million-voter advantage in registrations over Republicans, but their numbers have dwindled since Mr. Obama’s election. There were 4.15 million registered Democrats through mid-May, compared with about 4.48 million in 2008. Democrats added about a half-million voters to their rolls in the two years prior to the 2008 election.

• Iowa: Republicans have gained ground in the state that launched Mr. Obama’s presidential bid. GOP registrations increased from about 625,000 voters in 2008 to nearly 640,000 in early May. Democrats, meanwhile, have fallen from about 736,000 voters in 2008 to about 687,000 in May.

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said the president “has demonstrated a consistent ability to reach new voters and voters who don’t identify as Democrats, so party affiliation isn’t the only factor to evaluate.”

“The campaign’s efforts to expand the electorate to new voters and voters with less-consistent voting histories was one reason why the president was elected in 2008, and as we continue our organizing efforts it’s certainly something we’ll take into consideration,” he said.

In a strategy video released in April, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina noted that Democrats registered about two-thirds of the new voters in 2007 and 2008 in states that allow for party registration. Mr. Obama, in turn, won nearly 70 percent of the nearly 15 million first-time voters in 2008.

“That made real differences in very close states across this country. We’ve got to do that again in 2012,” he said.

But Blaise Hazelwood, who ran the Republican National Committee’s voter registration effort in 2004, said it would be difficult for Mr. Obama’s operation to replicate 2008.

“There’s no way they can get all those voters back,” she said.

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