Democratic voter registration surges in Oregon
New voters and those who have changed party affiliation push state numbers beyond 2 million for the first time since the 2004 presidential electio
Saturday, April 26, 2008
EDWARD WALSH AND MICHELLE COLE
The Democrats are coming. And they are coming in force.
A surge in Democratic voter registration that began earlier this year is peaking as Oregon nears the Tuesday deadline to register for the May 20 primary. Oregon's contest could be crucial in deciding whether Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama will win the Democratic nomination for president.
Oregon Democrats, who began the year with about 70,000 more registered voters than Republicans, have doubled that advantage, which stood Friday at 826,984 Democrats to 685,344 Republicans.
The trend of soaring Democratic registration and essentially flat Republican registration has been happening across the state, from heavily Democratic Multnomah County to such GOP strongholds as Jackson County in southern Oregon. Jackson County still has more registered Republicans than Democrats, but the GOP lead there has been cut by almost 4,000 voters.
Democrats now outnumber Republicans in Clackamas and Washington counties, both critical swing areas.
Since Jan. 2, elections officials have registered more than 112,000 voters, roughly divided between new voters and those who have changed their party affiliation. About two-thirds of the party switchers have re-registered as Democrats.
That puts Oregon's total voter registration beyond 2 million for the first time since the November 2004 presidential election.
There are a few signs that Obama may be the main beneficiary of the new Democratic registrations.
According to local elections officials, the Obama campaign appears to have been more active in registering voters than the Clinton campaign. In Lane County, home of the University of Oregon and the kind of area where Obama has run strongly in other parts of the country, "it's primarily the Obama campaign" that has been registering voters, said Annette Newingham, chief deputy county clerk. "The Hillary Clinton campaign is pretty quiet in comparison."
"The buzz has been Obama," echoed Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker.
"We've seen more individuals wearing Obama campaign material coming in with registration forms," said Margaret Wu, Clackamas County elections manager.
Obama has trounced Clinton among younger voters in earlier primaries, and that could work to his advantage in Oregon. In the months before the 2006 primary, about half of newly registered voters were 18 to 30 years old. So far this year, 18- to 30-year-olds account for 58 percent of a much larger influx of new voters.
They are voters like Gwen Anderson, who will turn 18 on May 17, three days before the primary. A freshman at Mt. Hood Community College, Anderson registered as a Democrat. She won't say who she will vote for, only that she's eager to cast her first ballot.
"This is how change works," Anderson said.
Geri Steele, 54, of Forest Grove was a nonaffiliated voter for years, but she and her husband recently re-registered as Democrats and will vote for Obama in the primary.
"It just gives us a little bit earlier say-so on the candidates," she said.
Connor Morrison, 20, an Oregon State University student, is among the few new voters who registered as a Republican and said he has been hearing a lot about President Bush's faults from Democratic friends.
"It gets kind of old after a while," said Morrison, who supports Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The Obama campaign, which has been targeting younger voters in its registration drive, began a final push Friday. It announced that Oregonians 16 and older who collect at least five voter registration forms can participate in a "Hoops for Change" event Monday featuring Obama's brother-in-law, new OSU men's basketball coach Craig Robinson, as the referee and Trail Blazers Channing Frye and James Jones as coaches of competing teams.
"This event shows we are clearly looking to do extremely well with the youth vote," said Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro.
Obama has 12 offices in Oregon, compared with seven for Clinton, and Shapiro said more than 35,000 Oregonians have signed up online to help the campaign, including registering voters. The Clinton campaign is countering with appearances up and down the state Friday and today by former President Clinton.
Clay Haynes, Hillary Clinton's state director, said such personal appearances by the candidate, her husband and their daughter, Chelsea, have helped draw new Clinton voters.
"The biggest keys for us are going to be Hispanics and white women," Haynes said. "When you look at voter targeting, we are going very strongly with those two communities."
It has been years since the Oregon primary, which comes near the end of the primary calendar, has been the focus of so much attention. And that holds the potential for changing the state's political landscape, affecting not only the Clinton-Obama race but also boosting Democratic prospects across the board in the fall.
No part of the state is more important politically than Clackamas and Washington counties. Unlike overwhelmingly Democratic Portland, these are traditional battlegrounds in statewide elections, with closely divided electorates that have leaned Republican in the past.
Thanks largely to the presidential primary, Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 3,545 voters in Clackamas County and 10,117 voters in Washington County.
"It's pretty phenomenal to watch the change," said Washington County Elections Supervisor Jeff Doty, adding that the Obama campaign "hit the ground running" in the western suburbs.
Oregon Republican Party Chairman Vance Day said he was unconcerned about the Democratic surge. He said it was to be expected, especially with the lack of a contest for the GOP presidential nomination, which has been locked up by McCain.
"People go to see a horse race," Day said. "They don't go to see one horse run around the track."
Edward Walsh: 503-294-4153; firstname.lastname@example.org