Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign could spur record voter registration among black voters the same way the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s campaign did in 1984 — though new registrants won’t just “miraculously appear,” political analysts say.

Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, will have to build a strong grass-roots movement designed to operate simultaneously with his campaign, registering new voters everywhere he goes, particularly young and independent voters, said political consultant Donna Brazile.

“When we were with Reverend Jackson we did two things: We passed around the hat for contributions and we passed around voter registration forms, and that was really refreshing because you could see a movement growing,” said Miss Brazile, a veteran Democratic Party campaign strategist.

She said that strategy should be implemented by all the Democrats in the presidential race, but particularly Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who draw thousands at rallies across the country.

Mr. Jackson, a civil rights minister, given little chance in the election two decades ago, made great strides to register new voters and took 400 delegates to the Democratic convention.

In 1986, Democrats took control of the Senate, and Mr. Jackson took 1,200 delegates to the 1988 convention, and a record number of black politicians were elected over the next six years, 16 elected to Congress in 1992.

“The difference this time is neither Obama nor Hillary is making registration a big part of their campaign,” said Sam Riddle, a Detroit-based political consultant who worked on the Jackson campaign.

He said Democrats for the past 12 years have relied more on “traditional campaigning” targeting only registered voters. Registration drives can be expensive for a campaign, Mr. Riddle said, because the prices for television ads and travel are so much higher now.

“I believe Obama will benefit more from registration because of the youth crowd he attracts, and [if] he as a candidate through the campaign registers someone, they are very likely to vote for him,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton may not receive the same dividends from voter drives, Mr. Riddle said, because new voters tend not to vote for the status quo party candidate, opting to vote for someone fresh and newer to the process like themselves.

This division between elected Democrats and party organizers was reflected last year when Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean butted heads with Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mr. Dean could not convince Mr. Emanuel that expanding the party nationwide in the Midwest, and in the South would garner wins at the polls. Mr. Emanuel’s strategy was to attract moderate Democrats to run in states with weak Republican candidates tainted by close associations to numerous corruption scandals involving Jack Abramoff and other Republicans.

Democrats were successful in taking back the House and Senate in November, and while many politicians credit Mr. Emanuel’s plan, grass-roots Democrats say as much credit should go to the millions of new registered voters garnered through numerous voter drives in 2000 and 2004.

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