Friday, October 27, 2006

The Democratic National Committee is hiring more black advertisers, pollsters and grass-roots operatives in a revamped effort to increase turnout by black voters on Election Day.

Democratic officials say the black vote is essential — particularly in Senate races — to beat Republicans.

“There are a lot of races that will be impacted by African-American and Hispanic voters in crucial states, and we had a lot of candidates stress that they need these votes to win,” DNC spokeswoman Amaya J. Smith said.

She said the DNC is running a national ad campaign targeting black and Hispanic voters. It also is funding phone banks and has people on call to take voters to the polls.

“We are reaching out to people who we know are our voters but may not have come out in the last election,” Miss Smith said.

The difference is the party is not outsourcing its get-out-the-vote operations as it has in the past, said Donna Brazile, a political consultant who heads the DNC Voting Rights Institute.

She said that for the first time in recent memory, the party is taking its political destiny in its own hands, with the operations all being managed by people with experience turning out black and Hispanic voters in their specific cities and states.

“They have been remarkable in correcting the mistakes of the past, and this is the best work I’ve seen for a midterm election,” Miss Brazile said.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative, has warned the party for years about the importance of ensuring black voters get to the polls.

“I think they understand that the black vote is a solid, sure vote that you don’t have to wonder about,” Mrs. Norton said.

According to exit polls in 2004, black voters constituted 11 percent of the electorate, and 88 percent voted for Democrat John Kerry. The impact of black voters in key states is even larger. In Maryland, for example, 23 percent of voters in 2004 were black, and 93 percent of those voted to re-elect Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat.

Historically, Mrs. Norton said, both Republicans and Democrats have underestimated the difficulty in turning out voters for midterm elections, but she said Republicans woke up to that fact in 1994 when they used their get-out-the-vote efforts to wrest control of Congress.

“What gives me hope is that the poll figures are so much better for us than they were for the Republicans in 1994, also a non-presidential year,” Mrs. Norton said. But, she added, “Republicans didn’t have the turnout machine that they have now and their turnout is better than ours.”

Longtime Democratic pollster Ron Lester said Republicans have had more time to perfect their turnout strategies.

Mr. Lester, who lives in Prince George’s County, has polled Maryland elections for decades. He said his main problem has been that the national Democratic Party never communicated with the local party and had no system in place to track its voters.

He said Republicans work on turnout year-round and are in constant contact with their voters, making it easy to find them and track their voting habits.

“They use a database that they have been building for years, to the point where today my friends who are Republican pollsters, they can go to a block somewhere in some town and tell you exactly where the three Republican voters live on that block, right off the bat,” Mr. Lester said.

Terry McAuliffe recognized this problem in 2001 when he became DNC chairman. He copied the Republican model, investing heavily in building a similar database using credit-card information, vehicle registrations and other data to identify likely Democratic voters.

This database, which cost the party tens of millions of dollars to assemble, has given the Democrats a tool to challenge Republican turnout nearly vote for vote, Mr. Lester said.

“The DNC probably has the most effective technical operation they have had in years, but as always they are still playing catch-up,” he said.

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