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The Boston Globe

Politics

Voter registration favors Democrats in battlegrounds

But signups lag behind levels set in ’08 campaign

MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Obama’s campaign has issued two memoranda in the past week extolling the ability of its vaunted field organization to register new voters and boost early voting turnout in key battleground states.

Registration data from the six swing states that record newly registered voters’ party preference indicate a Democratic edge in new sign-ups since the primaries and caucuses earlier this year, but the numbers fall short of what the party achieved in 2008 — and newly registered independents easily exceed new registrations by either party.

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In New Hampshire, the Democratic Party has actually lost a little ground to the Republicans, although data from the office of Secretary of State William Gardner indicate the Democrats have cut into the GOP margin slightly in the past month.

For both parties here, the crucial test will come on Election Day — New Hampshire allows same-day registration. Gardner said he expects a record number, “upwards of 100,000” to take advantage of the law.

In closely contested states, a ground operation can make the difference. Democrats traditionally have employed better get-out-the-vote operations, and the Obama campaign is probably the largest, most sophisticated operation ever deployed in a national election, building on its 2008 model.

A campaign official said this week that the 2008 model had “revolutionized political campaigning.” It propelled Democratic registration to record levels in many states. The Obama campaign invested early this cycle and has expended considerable resources to build its field organization. With polls showing a close race in nearly all of the nine states where both campaigns are still buying television advertising, the party’s ground game could serve as an ace-in-the-hole for Obama by boosting Democratic turnout.

A Globe examination of voter registration data in the half-dozen swing states where residents can choose a party affiliation finds that the Democratic registration gain since the presidential nominating contests is 422,480, compared to 287,660 for Republicans. In the six key states, the number of independents, who go by different labels in each state, has increased by 500,301, much more than either party, the Globe review shows.

For a comparable period during the 2008 cycle in the same states, Democratic registration jumped by more than 1 million, compared to fewer than 300,000 for Republicans, and a little less than 400,000 for independents.

The six states are Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. Battleground states that do not register voters by party are Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

“In 2012, as in 2008, we’ve made unprecedented efforts to register voters,” Obama campaign spokesman Michael Czin said in an e-mail last week responding to the Globe’s findings. “We have largely preserved the huge gains built in 2007 and 2008 and increased our advantage in some areas — out-registering Republicans in every single battleground state in each of the past three months.” Czin said “there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in nearly every battleground state.”

An Oct. 11 memo by Jeremy Bird, the campaign’s national field director, made similar points, illustrated with nine tables of data. However, the 2.4 million Democratic registration lead in battleground states that the memo cites is generated in part by using statistics from heavily Democratic Pennsylvania. Democrats have a nearly 1.1 million lead in registrations there and neither campaign is advertising in the all but uncontested state.

The 2.4 million registration advantage claimed by Bird in battleground states also includes voters who may still legally vote but are designated in Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada as “inactive” because of recent voting history. That contributes about 120,000 to the Democratic margin cited by the Obama campaign because in all three states there are many more inactive Democrats than Republicans.

Without those factors, the Democratic registration advantage is about 1.2 million. Four years ago, in the same states, using the same criteria, it was more than 1.6 million. Also, all of the Democratic registration advantage can be accounted for in North Carolina and Florida, two Southern states where an inordinate number of voters registered as Democrats vote for Republican candidates in national elections.

Republicans say they have stepped up their organization efforts in comparison with 2008 and estimate that their voter contacts in battleground states are multiples of what they were at this point in the 2008 campaign nationally and in every battleground state.

Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the estimates of contacts are based in part on data from the party’s voice-over-Internet-phone system, which logs data from every call made from a campaign office.

In the past two weeks, the chairpersons of both national parties have campaigned in New Hampshire to help generate enthusiasm among campaign volunteers. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz made five stops in the state one day, two of them to rally volunteers at women-to-women phone banks. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, made a weekend visit to knock on a couple of doors in Nashua, one of which the party said was the one millionth New Hampshire voter contact by phone or in person in the campaign.

Gardner said a major factor outside of party efforts that will boost the number of same-day registrations on Nov. 6 is a purge of 160,000 Granite State residents from the rolls conducted last year. Once every 10 years, he said, the state removes from the lists any voters who had not cast ballots in either of the last two state elections or any local election in that period, and did not respond to a notice mailed to their address.

Many of the same-day registrants, Gardner said, will be among those who were dropped from the list.

Brian C. Mooney can be reached at bmooney@globe.com.

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