Another key target is voters of all races under 35, including college students and even high-schoolers who will be 18 by election day. In Virginia, for example, nearly 90,000 people 34 or younger have registered in recent months -- and the Obama campaign is targeting many more who have not registered. Florida strategists have identified about 600,000 young Democrats with "little to no voting history," according to an internal memo. The campaign is applying the same effort to reach unaffiliated Latinos in New Mexico and Nevada.
What makes the idea of bringing in so many new voters more than just political fantasy is the Obama campaign's deep pockets and the sophisticated apparatus it has begun building to achieve its goals -- using techniques to ferret out and mobilize potential supporters that only a few years ago were the secret weapons of Republican strategists and their ideological allies.
Four years ago, it was President Bush's campaign that used microtargeting to scope out sympathetic African Americans, helping Bush win 16% of that vote in Ohio, up from 9% in 2000. Republican strategists believe the black vote in Ohio provided Bush the cushion he needed to avoid a 2000-style recount battle there. This time, not only are more African Americans expected to turn out, but Obama aides believe he will win more than 90% of those who do.
In a political twist, Democrats can thank a Republican for empowering one new group of voters: Florida felons. Gov. Charlie Crist last week announced that, thanks to a new rule he enacted, about 115,000 felons who had completed their sentences had become eligible under his administration to have their civil rights restored. Liberal groups such as People for the American Way hope to track down even more who could have their rights restored in time to permit them to register and vote in November.
Experts say felons are disproportionately black and, if they can be found, more likely to be Obama backers. This provides a huge potential; about 1.1 million felons in Florida were ineligible to vote in 2004, according to a 2006 book by sociologists Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen. Here too the potential for gains has risk: It could open a door for Republicans to portray Democrats as soft on crime.
The push for new and nontraditional voters is so targeted and aggressive that an NAACP official in Ohio said her organization plans to pursue individuals who are incarcerated but who have not yet been tried or sentenced and, therefore, under state law, remain eligible to vote.
The group is also tracking felons who often don't realize that, in Ohio, they are eligible to vote as soon as they leave prison.
Ex-offenders are "just everywhere," said Jocelyn Travis, who heads the Ohio NAACP's voter outreach program. "People who have a felony or criminal background are throughout our community, and they don't realize that they have the right to vote."
Democratic strategists believe that if the Obama campaign can reach even a fraction of African Americans who have not voted in the past, it can cut dramatically into Bush's 2004 victory margins. According to a Democratic strategy memo in Florida, where Bush won by about 381,000 votes, "encouraging just one-third of the non-2004 voters to cast a vote would alone [make up] more than half the margin."
In Florida, hundreds of campaign "fellows" have signed on to canvass targeted neighborhoods throughout the summer. Similar efforts are underway in Virginia, where campaign workers have been dispatched to parking lots, bus stops and grocery stores in heavily Democratic areas.
"It's safe to say that we could come close to registering enough to make up the difference" in 2004 between Bush and Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, said Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.). Bush won Virginia by about 260,000 votes.
In addition, a coalition of liberal advocacy groups, led by the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is trying to register 1.2 million voters -- with a special emphasis on blacks.
While the NAACP is nonpartisan and its officials say their efforts to register new voters are not specifically designed to help Obama, they say there is an added excitement among potential new voters.
"Hope is at an all-time high, and when hope is raised, people are moved to action," said Sybil Edwards-McNabb, president of the Ohio NAACP.