WASHINGTON – New Democratic voter registrations were 10 times those of Republicans since the 2004 election.
According to data released by the Maryland Board of Elections, 210,000 new Democrats registered compared with 21,000 Republicans. Overall registration had grown by 302,961 new voters, as of Friday.
For weeks, pundits and political analysts have warned of unprecedented throngs of new voters, compelling county election boards to pump up poll staffs. Even though state Democrats tallied record gains in the rolls, more new voters registered between the 2000 and 2004 cycles than this one by 57,000.
Across the state, new registrations in the last month of the period ending Tuesday, tallied to just over 100,000, falling 20,000 voters short of the state election board’s predictions, and 40,000 short of the 2004 election cycle, when Republicans and Democrats both saw large gains.
The Republican Party, energized by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich, nearly matched Democrats in registration gains in 2004, but failed to recapture momentum this time around.
“The Republicans are not keeping pace with their past (registration drives), and that’s why we’re not getting record registrations here,” said Michael Cain, a professor at St. Mary’s College and the director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. “If these people all come out on Election Day, it’s going to be a blow out.”
Nobody expects John McCain to win Maryland in November, and only Maryland’s 1st Congressional District is considered likely to choose a new Republican congressman, but if Democrats continue to outpace Republicans in recruitment, the already wide gap could become enormous.
“In this election cycle, it’s clear that the economy is going to play very well for the Democrats,” Cain said. However, “these registration numbers show something much more long term. The long term prospects for the Republican Party do not look good.”
This reality is not lost on the state’s GOP leadership.
“It’s not good,” said Justin Ready, a party spokesman. “We’ve definitely got to work hard.”
The Republican Party has had volunteers in canvassing and setting up registration booths in every county, but their drives have been more targeted than Democrats.
“We have a high conversion percentage within the types of folks who tend to register as Republican,” Ready said, referring to small business owners and other groups the party targets. “The people we register are people who are going to vote. We don’t often have Bruce Springsteen concerts and register thousands, not that there’s anything wrong with it.”
He added that, after what’s been “a tough time for the Republican Party nationally,” it may be worthwhile for Republican strategists to consider using such tactics to amplify their rolls.
A Democratic official attributed the registration success to “shoe leather,” not concerts.
“Within the Democratic Party, we have fairly sophisticated and very involved clubs and elected (officials) who know and understand how to register new voters,” said spokesman David Paulson.
“It’s been more successful where there’s more people, in your major metropolitan areas,” he added, but noted that earlier this year, Calvert County Republicans outnumbered Democrats by a few voters.
In registration numbers, Democrats are now ahead by a few hundred in that more rural part of the state.
“The credit for that goes to the local Democrats in Calvert County,” said Paulson. “They created their own program, their own scientific approach to going out and registering voters, and then they hit the road.”
Jonathan Carpenter, an Obama organizer from Denton, but who operates in Baltimore City, says voter registration is all about location. At the Obama headquarters a few blocks from Lexington Market, he said at least 100 new voters signed up a day during the registration period, and for the last few weeks, his coworkers have registered thousands.
“We got to the point where we set up tables on the sidewalk,” Carpenter said.
From the vantage point of a Democratic organizer, this week marks the end of a very successful season.
“It’s a relief,” Carpenter said, “but also, for someone like me who’s enthusiastic, it’s also kind of sad. I’ve never seen so many people just voluntarily, enthusiastically want to get registered to vote.”