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Surge of newly registered voters likely favors Obama

Associated Press | 10/15/2008, 4:24 a.m.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., campaigns in Holland, Ohio, on Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008. A surge in newly registered voters, an overwhelming number of whom signed up as Democrats, could propel Obama to victory over rival Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the upcoming presidential election — if they show up. AP /Jae C. Hong

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The surge in new voters that helped propel Barack Obama to his party’s presidential nomination is carrying over to the general election — 9 million newly registered voters who are overwhelmingly Democratic and could add up to a big victory on Election Day.

If they show up.

In states where registration is recorded by party, including eight key states that could decide the election, voters have signed up as Democrats in the past six months by a margin of nearly 4-to-1.

Tonya Barker is among them. The 30-year-old mother of two from eastern North Carolina said it wasn’t until this election — when the Illinois senator burst onto the national scene — that she finally found a reason to vote.

“Why would I waste my time on someone I don’t believe in?” said Barker. “I think I knew Barack was coming.”

Simply registering voters, even when the numbers are skewed so heavily toward one party, is no guarantee of success.

Historically, voter turnout among new registrants has been low. And while candidates have months to run registration drives, they have only a tiny window — several days during early balloting and just hours on Election Day — to get out the vote.

Still, an Associated Press analysis of registration data found that if the millions of newly registered voters turn out at the same rate as in 2004 and cast ballots with their declared party of choice, Obama could have the votes he needs to wrest several battleground states away from the Republican Party and its nominee, Sen. John McCain.

Obama could hold Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, won by Democrat John Kerry four years ago, and go on to pick up three states won by President Bush: Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. He could also narrow the gap in Iowa, as well as in both Florida and North Carolina: two big Southern states worth 42 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

A win for Obama in only a few of those eight states could doom McCain’s chances. A victory in all could turn the election into a rout.

“The trend line is really troubling,” said longtime Republican consultant Carter Wrenn, who helped North Carolina’s Jesse Helms win several terms in the U.S. Senate in a state where there are far more registered Democrats than Republicans.

“That’s a sign that this is one of those elections where all the tides are flowing in the Democrats’ direction,” Wrenn said. “Those tides are the most important thing in politics.”