Dems’ voter registration drive marks 100 days until election

The Colorado Statesman

Thousands of volunteers and a couple of young celebrities fanned out across Colorado last weekend to mark 100 days until the election as part of President Barack Obama’s “It Takes One” campaign initiative to register voters and organize supporters in Colorado.

“Colorado is a swing state, and who knows what will happen. There’s an extraordinary amount of agency in this state now — such power — because these nine electoral votes could swing everything,” said actor John Cho, star of the Harold and Kumar movies, at an Obama booth surrounded by volunteers with clipboards at Denver’s Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday.

Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, who headed the Departments of Energy and Transportation in the Clinton administration and is a national co-chair of the Obama campaign, asks House District 31 candidate Joe Salazar how his campaign is going at a Latinos for Obama picnic on July 28 in state Sen. Lucia Guzman’s back yard in northwest Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Cho and Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams set down in the Denver area to help draw attention to the campaign’s hundreds of organizing events held by the Obama campaign around the state.

“This is it, we’re right in the heat of the campaign,” said state Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver. “The response has been pretty incredible.”

State Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, talks with Jamiko Rose, director of the Obama campaign’s Operation Vote programs in Colorado and Selena Dunham, the campaign’s state director of human resources, at a Latinos for Obama barbecue in Guzman’s back yard on July 28 in northwest Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Taking a break from posing for snapshots with fans — Cho had earlier tweeted that he was heading to the festival and asked followers to “come and give me a high five” — the actor said he was thrilled with the enthusiasm he was witnessing.

Obama campaign volunteers register voters at Denver's Dragon Boat Festival on July 28 at Sloan Lake Park.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We’re really getting people to express themselves,” he said. “Particularly, for me, I’m here at the Dragon Boat Festival today because I come from a community, the Korean-American community, that traditionally has been outliers, they believe in taking care of themselves and not really getting involved in politics, but that’s been changing.” He added, “I want to make sure that Asians’ voices are heard, and that’s one of the reasons I support our President, is I feel he’s been good going to communities that aren’t necessarily represented all the time, he’s been very expansive and inclusive.”

Obama campaign field organizer Chris Griswold, left, trains volunteers to register voters at a recent organizing event at the campaign’s Boulder office, which it shares with U.S. Rep. Jared Polis’ campaign near the Pearl Street Mall.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Not far from the festival at Sloan Lake, organizers and officials gathered at a Latinos for Obama event at the home of state Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver.

“We’ve got our lists, we’re going door-to-door, and reminding people about what the President has done, because a lot of people have forgotten, and talking about what Mr. Romney is proposing to do,” said former Denver Mayor Federico Peña after walking nearby West Denver precincts on Saturday.

Former Denver City Council President Rosemary Rodriguez, the former state director for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and current Colorado political director for the Obama for America campaign, talks politics with state Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, at a Latinos for Obama barbecue on July 28, part of the campaign’s It Takes One organizing initiative aimed at registering voters and recruiting volunteers.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Peña, a national co-chair of the Obama campaign, said that turning out Colorado’s sizable Latino vote this year will be key.

“In particular, in the Hispanic community, we’ve been very focused to make sure we get a very strong Latino vote,” he said.

Obama campaign volunteers register voters at Denver’s Dragon Boat Festival on July 28 at Sloan Lake Park.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

This year’s presidential field makes that task easier, he said.

“When I talk to people and remind them that Mr. Romney is probably the most unsympathetic of the last four Republican presidential candidates to Latino issues, that registers,” Peña said.

Fans pose for a snapshot with actor John Cho, star of the Harold and Kumar movies and an Obama supporter, on July 28 at Denver’s Dragon Boat Festival at Sloan Lake Park, where the campaign conducted a voter-registration drive.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Compared with both President George H. W. Bush and his son, President George W. Bush, along with Sens. John McCain and Bob Dole — who “were all sympathetic to Hispanic issues, they all got good Latino votes when they ran,” Peña said — “here we have Mr. Romney who is not only not sympathetic, he’s actually saying things that are antagonistic to the Latino community. And that’s why you see his numbers are terrible in the Latino community.”

Obama campaign volunteers urge residents to register to vote at Denver’s Dragon Boat Festival on July 28.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Pointing to a recent Gallup poll that showed President Barack Obama lead-ing presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney by an overwhelming margin among Hispanic voters, Peña said it was nonetheless a challenge to get Latino voters to the polls.

“Our job is to make sure we get out the vote,” he said. “That’s why we’re going door-to-door, so they know how important — someone said to me, ‘Gosh, Mayor Peña, what are you doing going door-to-door?’ And I said, because this is an important election. So I know what she’s going to do, she’s going to tell all her friends,” he said. He added, “The door-to-door, the personal connection, is what’s going to make sure we win this election. This is something that Mr. Romney does not have, he does not have a ground game. All he has is millions of dollars for TV, but he’s not touching people like we are.”

The Romney campaign is planning its second monthly “Super Saturday” events this weekend, a national day devoted to making “hundreds of thousands of voter contacts through phone calls and knocking on doors around the country,” said Ellie Wallace, the Romney campaign’s Colorado press secretary.

“Super Saturdays are a great way to engage our local volunteers here in Colorado to test our full operation in a competitive setting as we prepare for our get out the vote efforts this fall,” she said.

Republicans have held a consistent lead over Democrats among active registered voters in the state this year, and the margin was unchanged on Wednesday when the Secretary of State’s office updated registration figures through the end of July.

Since January, Republicans have maintained an edge of about 110,000 voters — out of a total 2,246,362 active registered voters on July 31 — and Democrats are working furiously to make up the gap. At the same time four years ago, Democrats counted about 60,000 fewer active voters than Republicans in the state but by election day had taken a slim lead for the first time in memory. Since the same time four years ago, the number of active Democratic voters has actually dropped by about 30,000 and the number of active Republican voters has increased by roughly 25,000.

Pabon said he was confident that Democrats would be in a good position by Election Day.

“We registered 300 voters yesterday at the Dragon Boat Festival,” he told The Colorado Statesman on Sunday. “That is an unprecedented level of enthusiasm to register to vote. If you multiply that by the dozens, if not hun-dreds of locations we were at yesterday, you have a real concerted, thoughtful effort registering voters. I don’t know we’re looking at it as we need to make up a gap in any way, this is about enfranchising as many people as we can. If you come at it from that point of view, people are engaged with it.”

One goal for both parties is to persuade voters classified as “inactive” — a label conferred upon registered voters after they miss a general election and don’t take steps to activate themselves — to update their status to ensure they’ll receive a ballot in the mail this year if they are on the permanent mail-ballot list. (Inactive voters remain on the books and can show up at polling places and cast ballots, but Democrats argue that skipping an off-year election shouldn’t mean these voters are taken off the mail-ballot list.) Because inactive Democratic voters outnumber inactive Republicans by a wide margin, Democrats see this as even more crucial to their election chances in November.

“The hurdle is an arbitrary one, it’s a capricious one,” said Pabon, one of 29 Democratic legislators who called on Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler last week to refrain from setting a rule that would keep inactive voters from receiving mail ballots. “The reason people are mistrustful or in disbelief is because it shouldn’t be any harder to vote this time than in previous elections. They think that if they voted in the last presidential election, they should be able to vote in this one.”

The Obama campaign has been opening campaign offices and conducting voter registration drives in the state since last summer. Over the past few weeks, the campaign has opened field offices in Longmont, Brighton, Glenwood Springs, Highlands Ranch, Fountain, Pueblo East and in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, bringing its number of local offices statewide to 32, plus the state campaign headquarters near downtown Denver. Following a brutal primary that lasted well into the spring, the Romney campaign is catching up and has opened four offices around the state with plans to roll out plenty more, campaign officials said.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com